A heron is pictured perched on a rock along Maryland's Chesapeake Bay. CNS photo/Bob Roller

Embrace the call to ecological conversion

  • April 21, 2022

Every religion has celebrations tied to the natural world. Celebrations of birth and death, darkness and light, sowing and harvesting all mark the rhythms of our lives and our encounter with God. What does this mean for a humanity hurtling towards the ecological upheaval that a global temperature rise of three degrees promises to deliver? The spectre of climate chaos threatens to disrupt the order by which we connect to God through creation.

When I type “Easter” into my phone, the auto-text suggests an emoji of a baby chick breaking out of a shell. Along with the Easter Bunny and chocolate eggs, it is a testimony to mingling the western Christian tradition with pagan spring rituals of fertility and new life. When I was a child, my mother said morning prayer with me and my siblings. One Easter prayer we used came from a child’s book and was titled New Life.

Three children were pictured making an Easter basket: “We’re making Easter baskets with coloured ribbons. What colour shall I choose? When this one is finished, we’re going to make another Easter basket. At Easter we celebrate the new life you gave your Son, Jesus. He rose from the dead. Now we share His new life.”

The early Christians did not have Easter baskets to collect eggs from the Easter bunny. But their experience of sharing the new life of the risen Jesus was connected to the natural world of Palestine. Pentecost, which marks the end of our Easter season, is the Greek word for the Jewish festival Shavuot. Shavuot marked the first wheat harvest.

The Christian Pentecost was experienced during Shavuot in Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit came to the community during a harvest festival when the Jewish world had gathered in Jerusalem. Language of the harvest is coded into our earliest Christian community. How will we make sense of God if harvests no longer have predictable seasons? How will we celebrate return of new life in an increasingly barren world?

In a world threatened by climate change, there is temptation to a perverse belief in what this means: If we believe Jesus is Lord, we shall not die as life on Earth collapses. We will live in the glory of God.

With this outlook, there is no spiritual motivation to change the road we find ourselves on. The end times are coming, so we need only profess belief in Jesus to be saved. Perhaps this would be true if the fate we face were not of our own making. But it is of our making.

Professing our faith in words will not be enough. We will be like the damned in the final judgment who ask, “Lord, when did we see you…?” Today, it is not just people who are hungry, thirsty, sick, naked, alone and imprisoned. It is all of creation. This is the growth in our understanding of Revelation. The cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor are one.

Our salvation lies in listening to the call to ecological conversion implicit in all faiths. As Christians, we cannot have authentic faith in the risen Jesus, we cannot share His new life, if we do not experience this conversion. It is beautifully described in Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’, at once personal and communal. The Holy Father summarizes the call to conversion: “Each creature reflects something of God and has a message to convey to us, and the security that Christ has taken unto Himself in this material world and now, risen, is intimately present to each being, surrounding it with His affection and penetrating it with His light. Then too, there is the recognition that God created the world, writing into it an order and a dynamism that human beings have no right to ignore.”

We can hope the world collectively embraces the call to ecological conversion. Science tells us that if it happens, humanity can still flourish on Earth, our common home.

But even if it does not, we who believe in the risen Christ can still be converted to the Good News. We can still embrace the order of the created world. We can respect and live in harmony with the dynamism of God. We can stubbornly stand with the first fruits of the harvest, the risen Jesus. No matter what happens in the future, if we do this, in the name of all that rises, we will share in His new life.

(Stocking is Deputy Director of Public Awareness & Engagement, Ontario and Atlantic Regions, for Development and Peace.)

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