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  • Writer's picturethewrightecotheologian

Dishing the Dirt ... What is happening to our planetary friends? To Us?

Updated: Feb 11, 2023

Earth is incredibly fertile, resilient, and beautiful and reveals something about God, Creator. The exuberance of Earth’s urge to create is stunning.

Four centuries ago people only imagined that there were only about ten thousand species of invertebrates (e.g., animals lacking backbones), but today we know that in just the spider family there are more than thirty- eight thousand species. Even in a teaspoon of soil there are upward of 10 trillion bacteria representing as many as ten thousand species! Earth’s urge to create is an expression of the abundant creativity of its Creator.

But for the first time in planetary history, one species is hurting Earth’s creativity and impairing her life systems: humans. There are many issues threatening Earth, but two are especially important: the loss of biodiversity and the shriveling of table fellowship.

Today's blog on exploring the ground beneath our feet will look closely at the loss of biodiversity.

Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost forever. The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right. Pope Francis, Laudato Si', 32– 33.

In a 2016 report by the World Wildlife Foundation it was reported that vertebrate populations have declined by 58 percent between 1970 and 2012. The number of different animals living on land dropped by 38 percent and marine populations declined by 36 percent. The most alarming figure is that freshwater species have experienced on average an incredible 81 percent decline in that same period.

This means that only a small fraction of species of animals living in lakes, rivers, and wetlands in 1970 remain and every food chain has lost key pieces. The most comprehensive, intergovernmental report ever made was published in 2019: IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. It was compiled by 145 expert authors from 50 countries over three years, with inputs from another 310 contributing authors.

See if your can hear the echos of Laudato Si' in their words...

“Ecosystems, species, wild populations, local varieties and breeds of domesticated plants and animals are shrinking, deteriorating or vanishing. The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed,” ..."This loss is a direct result of human activity and constitutes a direct threat to human well-being in all regions of the world.” The IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (2019)

Why is biodiversity loss such a grave problem ... one that we will be bequeathing to our kids?

The answer is that it is a byproduct of our alienation from Earth.

If we are are separate from and superior to creation, then we become blind to what our finned, winged, and paw-ed neighbors need to survive (e.g., clean water, not water that is too warm, intact food chains, habitat free of toxic chemicals, not being over fished, not having plastics polluting waterways). Human wants (not needs -- this is an important point) trump all else. We have forgotten how to love our other-than-human neighbors.

Pope Francis also warns us that this loss of biodiversity is a grave spiritual crisis.

By preventing Earth’s inhabitants from giving glory to God by their very existence, we become deaf to the majesty and love of our Creator ( LS 33).

Our ability to understand God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit diminishes when we degrade Earth and push animals and plants to extinction. We will act differently only when we connect our love of God with our love our planetary neighbors. Only then will it truely be 'on Earth as it is in heaven.'

And if we do, we will also be loving ourselves much more genuinely since our well being intertwines with that of our terrestrial, aquatic, and avian neighbors.

What happens to our planetary friends who depend on fish for food? Or on our pesky neighbors such as mosquitoes and ants?

What would life be like for human communities whose livelihoods and cultures depend on the food chains that fish, insects, and birds are a part of?

What recreation would there be for many if there were no fish or songbirds?

What becomes of our understand the miracle of the loaves and fishes if there were no more fish? Can human made burgers suffice as an apt replacement?

And what about St. Francis' sermon to the birds? How does our destruction of our avian friends impede the message he offers in his relationship with birds?

St Francis "urged them to listen to the word of God, saying,  ‘Oh birds, my brothers and sisters, you have a great obligation to praise your Creator, who clothed you in feathers and gave you wings to fly with, provided you with pure air and cares for you without any worry on your part.’…The birds showed their joy in a remarkable fashion: : They began to stretch their necks, extend their wings, open their beaks and gaze at him attentively..." St Bonaventure’s Life of St. Francis.

Thomas of Celano, wrote an earlier biography of Saint Francis, and told a similar story:

“From that day on, [Francis] carefully exhorted all birds, all animals, all reptiles, and also insensible creatures, to praise and love the creator…” I Celano XXI.

Art and Quotes are taken from the post of Fr. Jack Wintz OFM. For the depth of impact of St Francis' preaching to birds on theological imaginations, just google St Francis of Assisi and preaching to birds and revel in the sheer beauty of all the artistic renderings.

A loss of biodiversity is a consequence of humanity's story of alienation from our common home and represents a grave physical and spiritual crisis:

  • it prohibits our neighbors from having life,

  • it diminishes our human well being by rupturing Earth's webs of interdependence

  • it is a deep fracture of our relationship with God.

Removing blinders to our planetary neighbors who are members of this one planetary family is a key part of the year of reflection that Pope Francis is calling for.

Here is your task as a subject in this unfolding story of God's overflowing love.

Breathe in and out as you do some holy noticing. What neighbors are crossing your path? What would your life of faith and witness be like without them?

Reflection: For you and your family/parish/friends group

Read Laudato Si’ 32– 42 several times - much like a beloved poem.

Let all the dimensions of its depth move your imagination to see the great commandment of Love (Matthew 22) with new eyes and hearts.

After this contemplation of Laudato Si', watch the following video made by Vandana Shiva, a physicist from India and protector of biological and cultural diversity:

What was your initial reaction?

How does she connect the loss of biodiversity with human suffering?

How could your parish, school, or family notice and care more for your terrestrial neighbors? Perhaps these ideas could be published in your church bulletin, or added to the petitions or sermon, or done during a family outing.

Here is another activity to add to your formation process. Plastic pollution in our waters is poisoning our aquatic neighbors and thanks to the interconnectedness of our common home, it is impacting human well-being too.

We are what we eat, remember.

But awakening to the problem is the first step to our call to love more abundantly -- and this love will inspire new ways of being that promote the well being of our common home.

Join the Center for Biological Diversity and the New Mexico Recycling Coalition for a free virtual screening and panel discussion of the new film “The Story of Plastic.” This event will serve to spark dialogue, provide hope, create action and help us break free from plastic pollution. Register to attend the free event by clicking here

Date: Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Time: 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. MST/1:00 p.m. - 2:00 p.m. EST

Location: Watch the film at your convenience a week prior to the post-screening virtual video conversation in Zoom. 

THE STORY OF PLASTIC takes a sweeping look at the human-made crisis of plastic pollution and the worldwide effect it has on the health of our planet and the people who inhabit it. Spanning three continents, the film illustrates the ongoing catastrophe: fields full of garbage, veritable mountains of trash, rivers and seas clogged with waste, and skies choked with the poisonous emissions from plastic production and processing. With engaging original animation, archival industry footage beginning in the 1930s, and first-person accounts of the unfolding emergency, the film distills a complex problem that is increasingly affecting the planet’s and its residents’ well-being.

Reflection to inspire your imagination while participating in this activity:

  • How is this story of plastics a symptom of our alienation from creation and our Creator?

  • How do you appreciate the "Story of Plastics" as a component of the Church's spiritual crisis?

  • How does this story about human activities impact how we understand God and God's activities in the world?

  • How does this story impact how we understand humanity's position and role in creation and our relationship to the Creator of the cosmos?

  • Does our alienation from Earth connect to our disposable, 'plastic' way of living? How does this impact how we are able to appreciate the message of love held in Scripture?

  • In our post-COVID19 world, what can we do differently?

COVID19 and #BLM are forcing all of us to re-evaluate how we live and love in our world. My next blog will be on the crumbling of table fellowship and the impact of this in our human and ecological communities.

But forces of change are offering an opportunity to examine what we need (versus what we want), how we shop and consume, and how we love our neighbors in all facets of our lives (not just when it is convenient or trendy).It is far past time to look at how we do things -- and create ways to do it more sustainably -- or even more simply, more lovingly.

Pope Francis Couldn't agree more ... and has used his power to call for an economic summit in November (in the iconic town where St Francis was born no less) to re-imagine new ways of doing economics and challenge our current pathological economy that denies life to so many.

“Healing people, not saving (money) to help the economy (is important), healing people, who are more important than the economy ... “We people are temples of the Holy Spirit, the economy is not” Pope Francis, May 2020

Praise Be!

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