"The Great Story Of Our Common Home -The Great Work Of Laudato Si"
In light of the most recent and urgent report of October, 2018, of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) people of faith and conscience are more challenged than ever to imagine a way forward, a way to restore "Our Common Home."
From the star-dust of pre-history to the carbon-dust of post-modernity, the climate of our Earth has undergone stupendous changes - and in this present age, the most challenging of all. How are we to comprehend this moment of destiny for human-kind, for living-kind? How are we to make our way forward to our common home, restored to stability and beauty? What wisdom will guide us, what spirit empower us?
The Thomas Berry Forum for Ecological Dialogue at Iona College has been grappling with these challenges in public programs on campus and in local faith communities. These questions were opened once again and explored on Saturday, November 17, 2018 in contemplative engagement with Father Joseph Mitchell, CP, whose mentor, Father Thomas Berry, CP, transmitted to him gifts of wisdom and insight to see the possibilities as well as the perils of our present global reality.
The afternoon began with a welcome by Br. Kevin Cawley, Executive Director of the Berry Forum. Br. Kevin took some time to open a lens on the current progress on UN member states on reducing their carbon output as promised in the Paris Agreement of 2015. Sadly the news was not encouraging as noted in the October 8 IPCC report cited in the opening paragraph above.
Father Joseph took the group of over forty participants through distinctions between gazing at objects and our current predicament and took time to share how to see clearly and not be overwhelmed.
Fr. Joseph then led us through a discussion of the human story and our understanding of the competing cosmologies describing our life on Earth and our understanding of God. We ended the explanations with the description of Earth as our "Common Home" as noted by Pope Francis in Laudato Si. Along this path of discovery we examined global poverty, the human right to water, energy usage, personal wellbeing and competing definitions of human happiness. We agreed that the sense of God as magnificent derives in part from our comprehensive embrace of the truth that we live on a beautiful planet - God's primary revelation.
Later, we examined our duty toward nature and the complications arising when only the human is granted rights because we only allow subjectivity in the human. Everything else is an object. Concerns were raised regarding recent USA judicial decisions granting rights to corporations. The earlier doctrine of the human having dominion over all creatures has been seen now as wrong understanding of the human place in creation. We saw that a just world is not possible if every nation consumed at the rate of the population of the United States of America.
We came to the question of how does a human flourish in these times? The need for inner peace has begun to press on the reality we all must confront daily. We are experiencing a grief now but we must not turn away from grief because it is inviting us down to important depths of understanding. Grief is about love, not depression. Our New Cosmology, the New Story, can re-set the human-earth relationship as we come to consciousness of our place in the universe. The natural world is not simply a resource for our exploitation. As we grow in understanding we are better able to help our institutions shift to the wider understanding that nature is always transcending and including, like God.
More than half our audience were Iona students who are currently studying the world-view of Thomas Berry. Here is a quote from a student who wrote to thank us for the day:
"I wanted to express my enjoyment and appreciation for Yesterday's event. Having Father Joseph Mitchell as the main speaker was a great victory for the day, as his engaging language seemed to draw me in, opening my mind to new ideas and reinforcing ones discussed in class."
Sr. Kathleen Deignan and Beth Bradley accompanied us with musical support, including a stirring version of "Amazing Grace" rendered as "Amazing Place" to honor Earth. Fr. Joseph was a co-author of the new music.
Fr. Joseph was introduced by Dr. Danny Martin, a Convener of the Berry Forum.
The next Berry Forum event will be "Contemplative Ecological Mass" at 6 p.m. on Saturday, November 24, in the Blessed Edmund Rice Chapel on campus.
Photos: Monica Hoyt