Spiritual ecology is a recent term which refers to the intersection between the religion and spirituality and the environment. It is a term which has been coiled due the demands of our time; the problem of environmental degradation. Among the many solutions which have been devised towards comparting and correcting this situation we have spiritual ecology. This is because science and technology has failed to address this problem, instead, it has aggravated the situation by its inability to deal with its products and by products. It is on this note that the Holy Father Pope Francis says that there is need for a spiritual and moral response to the environmental crisis; this brings the question of spiritual ecology to the forefront. Thus, ecological problem is a spiritual problem.
The ailments that our mother earth is suffering from are evident. Climate change coupled with adverse weather patterns, depleted forests, encroached wetlands, polluted water ways and bodies, piles of disposed filth in towns, strange diseases, lifestyle diseases, toxic air, depleted soil minerals for agriculture, soil erosion, noise from industries, automobiles, just to mention but a few. These constitute the monstrous resounding cry of our mother nature. But the question is, who suffers most when the mother is at pain apart from her own children who depend wholly upon her for all their need? And who is responsible for all this harm upon nature? Who else but humanity?
At this point it should be noted that the environmental crisis is a replica of the turmoil within us; greed, ignorance, egoism, apathy, selfishness, disorder, disconnection, secularism. These have disconnected us from ourselves, from one another, from the mother earth and above all from God the Creator, and has dumped us into a diabolic scramble for life as if we were solely responsible for our being. Our not listening to the cry of the earth is a reflection of our insensitivity to the needs of others; we are in a world where nobody shows concern for the needs of the neighbour. We are blind to the suffering, we are deaf to the cry of the poor. What shall we do to amend the situation?
We need to work towards the creation of a new world of unity and peace. This has to begin from the inner revival of humanity. In the heart of the human person has to be reconnected with the sacred in order to once again have the sense of the sacred. After reconnection with God we recognize that He is the Creator of all that is. This reminds us of the Genesis creation account; after creating God said that all creation is good (Genesis 1:31). Another point to note from Genesis is God’s command to humanity as co-workers, “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all living things that move on earth.” (Genesis 1:28). This divine command should not be misinterpreted to mean that man should be domineering and plunder the resources of the earth, it calls for humanity to practice a caring stewardship. As a result, Thomas Berry, a Passionist priest asserts that humanity is not at the centre of the universe but that it is integrated into a divine whole with its own evolutionary path.
It is only after re-establishing a link with the sacred that humanity can establish the interconnectedness of all creation. Pierre Teilhard De Chardin says that this transition to the recognition of the sacred calls for a collective awareness towards a consciousness of the divinity in every particle of life, even the densest mineral. Since we have already identified the environmental crisis as a spiritual problem, ecological conversion necessarily presupposes spiritual consciousness and an attitude of responsibility, one that recognises creation as sacred and one that commands behaviours that honour that sacredness. This renewal therefore demands from humanity a genuine morality just like any form of spirituality that calls for goodness.
Pope Francis echoes the Patriarch Bartholomew who invites us “to accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbours on a global scale…that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God’s creation, in the last speck of our planet.”
For Pope Francis, every creature mirrors something of God and has a message to convey to us. For instance, the operations of creation reflect order and dynamism which God is solely responsible. And by following the order that God has written in creation, the power and light of grace is reflected in our relationship with our surroundings. Then, in an integral ecology taking time to recover a serene harmony with creation, reflecting on our lifestyle and our ideals, and contemplating the Creator who lives among us, whose presence is to be uncovered. Thus in every creature, states Pope Francis, can be found a mystical meaning; God can be discovered in all things. He alludes to St. Bonaventure’s teaching, ‘contemplation deepens the more we feel the working of God’s grace within our hearts, and the better we learn to encounter God in creatures outside ourselves.
Again on the interconnectedness of creation, humanity needs to re-evaluate its activities since they affect other inhabitants of earth to a great extent. Humanity must examine and reassess the underlying attitudes and beliefs about the earth and our spiritual responsibilities towards the planet. David Suzuki, an environmentalist, has this to say about our relationship with nature. That the way we see the world shapes the way we treat it, if a mountain is a deity, not a pile of ore; if a river is one of the veins of the land, not potential irrigation water; if a forest is a sacred grove, not timber; if other species are biological, not resources, or if the planet is our mother, not an opportunity, then we treat each other with respect. This is the challenge, to look at the world from a different perspective.
Suzuki then adds that in order for humanity to find its way back home, we need to learn to live in harmony with the earth. We need to listen to the cry of the earth, deepen our personal reflection and widen the conversation between us and our environment and with other people. That we ought to embrace earth as a sacred living being, our birth mother, the source of our nurture and a being that is beyond pricing.
In the economy of salvation, the sacramental promise of eternal life reminds us that when we receive communion we are eating bread, a fruit of the earth, and work of human hands, now most intimately bound to the body, blood, soul and divinity of the Son of God. Does this not give rise to a spiritual ecology? Is it not through the celebration of this great banquet that the whole earth shall be renewed and be brought to fulfilment? Therefore, we should repair our relationship with the earth through the celebration of the sacredness and oneness of life.
In the sacrament of the Eucharist, Francis I adds that created cosmos finds the greatest adornment. Grace is manifested tangibly by God becoming flesh and giving himself to creatures as food; through the mystery of incarnation. Through the celebration of the Eucharist, the whole cosmos is joined in giving thanks to God. Ultimately, the Eucharist joins heaven and earth. Thus, the Holy Father sums up that ‘the Eucharist is a source of light and motivation for our concerns for the environment, directing us to be stewards of all creation.
Therefore, we need to treat creation as a gift from God; one that should be cared for and not exploited, one that should be cherished and not be abused, one that should be nurtures and not plundered. And that the beauty of creation may be a reflection of the beauty in the heart of every human being.