My Friend Eyjafjallajökull

Eyjafjallajökull is the name of the Icelandic volcano, who is disrupting so much of European airtransport in these days. I have difficulty pronouncing the name – it sounds strange – but there is a name, and I think that is something very important. Eyjafjallajökull has been like a good friend to me over the past days for forcing me into thinking about my ways of life and the global world I live in. I hope his/her clear statements bring us to reconsider our forgetfulness of inviting nature and the planet at the table where we decide about how to arrange the world in which we live. Eyjafjallajökull invites us to a really spiritual reflection about ourselves and our place on this planet.

But for Eyjafjallajökull’s rage, I would have been in an important Jesuit meeting in Mexico, where the rectors of Jesuit universities worldwide meet to reflect upon their international collaboration in a world that is facing planetary challenges. One of the topics is, precisely, the environment and global climate change and its consequences. It’s as if Eyjafjallajökull is telling me: “How is it possible that you have forgotten to invite me? Next time you plan this kind of meetings, don’t you dare forget that planet earth wants to have a voice …” Indeed, we tend to continue to view climate change as a mere human issue – and, of course, (a) climate change is to a large extend human driven, (b) it reflects worldwide unsustainable and, therefore, unjust ways of life, and (c) it impacts on human life, most severely on that of the most poor and most vulnerable amongst us. But, climate change is also a planetary issue, in which we have to involve nature as a conversation partner. We have, as well, to reconsider the place of human beings in nature and on the planet: human beings are a part of the whole living body that this extraordinary living planet earth is (I agree on that point with holistice views and with the Gaia hypothesis), although one has also to say that they are an important part. By giving extraordinary capacities to human beings, the planet earth has also given itself resources to further life in tremendous ways: the capacity to thing, to reflect and to self-consciousness (of each human being, and in human beings of the whole planet). However, it is also a risk that the planet has taken. We will see whether the planet can afford this risk – it seems that it is very like the risk of flying through a volcano ash plume …

Undoubtedly, we need new views on anthropology, on planetology and on cosmology. As a theologian, I would say: let us seriously deepen our views on creation and on the creativity of creation. The Creator is present both in the wonderful evolution leading up to life and to human beings (immanence), as in the otherness and differences that arise in the created world (transcendence). The interaction of immanence and transcendence as mutually interdependent, defines the space of the conversations within creation and of the conversation of creation (in particular, also human beings) with the Creator.

It also struck me how vulnerable we, Europeans, are in our desire to control everything. This urge for technological, scientific, political and economic control may well be at the heart of many of our troubles, particularly also with regard to the environment challenges. We do not easily conceive of conversations (with the nature and the reality (even human reality) that surrounds us) that would not be driven by an urge to control what is different and other. This means that we do not really enter into the logic of conversation, but that we stay with some kinds of monologues. We have, for example, turned science, that primarily originates from a sense of wonder and discovery, into a tool of control. It is not surprising that our societies begin to entertain very ambiguous relationships with science, considering it to be some mere rhetorical power feature (cf. eco-scepticism).

There has been an interesting discussion going on in Europe concerning the decision making processes that lead to the closure of national air space and, thus, to the authorization to fly over some of the European countries. Airlines have pointed out that there is a balance to strike between “economic realities” and “security risk assessments”. Some think that serious question marks should be placed with regard to the theoretical models that the British MET office is using to gauge the size, movements and densities of the ash cloud. Some lament the fact that in Europe national authorities decide upon closing airspaces, while in the USA airlines decide on whether or not to fly. This debate is also very revealing, as it highlights two of the most potent drivers or the western European world: money and security (fear). This is another area where a lot of reflection is needed.

Eyjafjallajökull has become a good friend, as (s)he touches some of the most sensitive areas of my way of life and this has turned into a spiritual experience. I am learning, the hard way, to consider nature and the planet as a serious conversation partner. Paradoxically, it makes me feel safer and more joyful, even if at this stage I have the impression of only starting the conversation.

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