World Environment Day
Contemplation in action, action in contemplation
By Edmond Nixon, C.Ss.R.
June 5 is World Environment Day. For 37 years the United Nations has invited people to stop on this day, take account of the environment, and make a decision to support it.
An awareness of the environment is at the heart of the Judeo-Christian faith tradition. True, there have been times when Jews and Christians did not fully appreciate this part of their faith. It is also true that in the name of their faith they sometimes abused the environment. Today is a new day. People of faith know it. The world knows it.
World Environment Day, 2009, is tinged with some sadness for on June 2, 2009, Fr. Thomas Berry, CP, environmentalist, died at the age of 94 in North Carolina, United States. In loosing Fr. Tom, a prolific author and enthusiastic lecturer, the world lost a great man of faith, a great environmentalist and contemporary mystic.
What made Fr. Berry’s insights so powerful was his ability to expose the breadth of issues. In his 1988 book, The Dream of the Earth, he was able to stand back and, as a cultural historian, look into the essence of contemporary human experience. “It’s all a question of story”, he said. “We are in trouble now because we do not have a good story. We are in between stories.” He went on to say, “A radical reassessment of the human story is needed, especially concerning those basic values that give to life some satisfactory meaning.” (Chapter 10).
This is where people of faith can make a difference.
To know how to be part of the action for World Environment Day, look to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). On their website you will be led to understand the issues involved, the localities from which action is being initiated, and the action in which you might choose to be involved.
The person of faith knows that there is more to it, more than action, something that accompanies the action. We know that there is an environment of contemplation, a place where a person intuits in their depths the radical connection they have with their environment, the conviction they are part of it, that they share with it the gift of being created and given.
Addressing the gathered throngs at Barangaroo, Sydney, Australia, July 2008, Pope Benedict XVI asked: “Immersed in such beauty, who could not echo the words of the Psalmist in praise of the Creator: ‘how majestic is your name in all the earth?’ (Ps 8:1).”
It is from contemplation, from an ongoing gratefulness within a person’s heart, that authentic action in the world springs, including action for the environment. In fact this way of being is part of a Godly environment, and as a consequence is a cosmic blessing upon all creation. Contemplation gives the environmentalist long legs for the action road. The environment reveals to the contemplative that everything is not only given, but given in love. “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands” (Psalm 19:1)
Beyond the revelation from nature, the Scriptures on many occasions, often indirectly, beckon believers to protect the environment. “The land is mine,” says the Lord, “and you are but aliens and my tenants. Throughout the country that you hold as a possession, you must provide for the redemption of the land” (Leviticus 25:23-24).
On this world Environment Day the United Nations rightly and thankfully calls humanity to action. Faith calls humanity to a contemplation that fuels that action, not as a cause or project, but as tender blessing.
In thanksgiving for the life, mind, and faith of Thomas Berry, CP, I quote from the final lines of “The Universe Story” a 1992 book he wrote with his colleague Brian Swimme. “There is eventually only one story, the story of the universe. Every form of being is integral with this comprehensive story. Nothing is itself without everything else. Each member of the earth community has its own proper place within the entire sequence of transformations that have given shape and identity to everything that exists.”
World Environment Day invites men and women to contemplation as it invites them to action. Maybe unwittingly – but that does not matter - it calls all into the resurrection blessing of the new creation.
“Dear friends, in your homes, schools and universities, in your places of work and recreation, remember that you are a new creation! As Christians you stand in this world knowing that God has a human face - Jesus Christ - the “way” who satisfies all human yearning, and the “life” to which we are called to bear witness, walking always in his light.” (Benedict XVI, Sydney, July 2008)