By Pat Siemen, OP
As Dominicans, we are rooted in contemplative response to the needs of the world. Our preaching is a way of living as well as speaking. We give our unconditional “yes” to the One who brings forth all life, and allow God to empower us to become other “Christs” in the world today. Our ability to live and surrender our lives to the work of God within and around us, requires us to be fully situated in the sufferings of the world, in the sufferings of the Earth community. As men and women Dominicans, we ask the question: What indeed is Earth asking of us today? What is required of us, as Dominicans, in the midst of so much suffering caused by environmental devastation? What is the word we preach to a withering Earth community?
We cannot preach truth, or be a word of hope, if we do not know the suffering that is happening and the causes for it. For example, the recent UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report states that climate change “is the greatest threat of our times.” And it is being exacerbated by human activities. How do we preach to that reality?
We must become familiar with Earth’s suffering and speak about the causes of such desecration. I don’t know about you, but I never hear a parish sermon on the moral responsibility to care for and protect the natural world. If I hear anything environmentally themed, it is generally to pray that God will “save us from the threats of natural storms, droughts or hurricanes.” Or we pray for those who are suffering “from natural disasters.” Such framing does nothing to recognize that many of the “natural disasters” are caused by the consequences of accumulated human choices—not by God.
So I submit that Earth is asking that we learn basic science, and study the global realities causing massive human and ecological suffering. Then we must preach about the causes of Earth’s withering and speak to our duty to live in balance in a finite world. Earth is asking us to be a voice for all of the inhabitants and ecosystems who share our single home. As Dominicans we need to study, preach, teach, and be in communion with Earth. We need to take our contemplative listening into the heart of Earth and hear Earth speaking to us through its smells, sounds, sights, shapes, and rhythms; through its beings, large and small; through its rivers and mountains, its fields and backyards, its seeds and plants, and all other animals.
Earth is asking us to know and love it. We must let ourselves experience Earth’s awesome beauty and its terrible desecration. That means we spend time outdoors, paying attention to who else is sharing the neighborhood with us.
At the Center for Earth Jurisprudence, we work to create new paradigms that will extend legal protection to nature. But first, we commit ourselves to develop a consciousness that recognizes the intrinsic rights of all members of the Earth community to exist, to habitat, and to fulfill its purpose. This requires developing a relationship with the natural world. Recently our Center drafted some Earth Care Promises—some steps to protect the Earth community, which includes humans and others alike. Perhaps these promises can be one way to respond to what Earth is asking of us.
Earth Care Promises
- I promise to deepen my appreciation for the interconnectedness of all life by getting outside more, by paying attention to the sights, sounds, scents and shapes around me, and by learning about the ecology of the bioregion in which I live.
- I promise to recognize and protect the value of all species and ecosystems for their own sake, beyond their value as “resources” and “property” for human use.
- I promise to protect the right of all species, human and others, and the ecosystems in my region to have sufficient habitat and to fulfill their evolutionary purpose.
- I promise to investigate and protect the watershed and recharge areas that provide precious water to our community and to reduce my water usage.
- I promise to reduce the use of fossil fuel energy sources by my community through examining our transportation, housing and consumption patterns.
- I promise to eat more locally grown, in season, non-GMO foods, and to eat less meat, which requires large amounts of water and grains.
- I promise to be mindful of the products that I purchase and examine their chemical basis, biodegradability, and economic justice impacts.
- I promise to assess my consumption, travel, lifestyle and desires against the ecological realities of a finite Earth.
- I promise to support those candidates for elected office who share an awareness of the critical importance of ecologically sound government and business policies.
- I promise to reflect on these questions:
- What future am I leaving to the unborn future generations of all species?
- What is Earth asking me to preach at this time?