Although there is still a day to go at COP 16 – that means that still a lot can happen –, a real politically and legally binding agreement on a planetary scale seems far away. Even a sequel to the Kyoto Protocol, which seems to me to be the bare minimum if we want to address worldwide climate change, seems far away. I still hear some optimistic voices, but that is because I am looking for them as a medical doctor tracks the life pulse with a stethoscope. In the meantime, with a small team of OCIPE (José Ignacio García, Thorsten Philip and myself), we are involved in a workshop on the Church, the Jesuits and the environmental issues, given for the young Jesuit philosophy students in Padua, Italy. Today we made them see the “facts” and face the situation using biblical contrast texts. At the end of the day, while I was aware that it is easy for us all to feel powerless and desolate in view of the challenge that calls for our engagement, I asked these young people to put on paper the consolations they may have experienced today by piercing through the wall of discouragement and fear we all experience in the face of these complex global threats. I still have to read the students’ reflections – they are arriving in my mailbox around this time – but I want to share some of the sources of my own consolations. They may be helpful to some of us.
In my list of consolations, the young people come first. They are committed to the world that will be theirs tomorrow and they know that they will have to change lifestyles and societal structures, if they want to inhabit a planet that will still support enjoyable life for all human beings. I met these young people at COP 15 in Copenhagen, I met them in a workshop in Paris, and then also here in Padua. I meet them amongst my theology students in Leuven. They still have the courage and freshness that allows them not to be easily imprisoned by destructive thought frames or structures of greed and oppression. They are also eager to explore their spiritual resources as they connect to their research or very concrete praxes. When I see them smile and engage, I feel the flow of their energies.
Other faces that come to me are those of victims of climate change worldwide. Sometimes, these faces frighten me, as I know that in my lifestyle and thoughts, I am not always faithful to them. Sometimes, I may even attempt to keep them at bay, as I fear that I could come to share their fate. Their presence, their faces and names, shock me into reality over and over again. We share a same planet, we are all human beings … Nevertheless, we seem to be worlds apart, separated by borders of injustice and exploitation. This is the shaky ground, where I learn to love my brothers and sisters. This is where I start to question many things that seem self-evident to me, this is also where I am forced into transdisciplinary research, this is where I discover that even in my attempts to answer the challenge of injustice, I discover that I am using worldviews that are part of the problem. I need to learn to see things differently, precisely there where up until now I felt most secure … I need to learn to think “queer,” as some theologians would say. I am grateful for authors as Tim Jackson or Herman Daly, who give me a fresh look at economics, for example. I am grateful to many theologians as Denis Edwards, Celia Deane-Drummond, Ivone Gebara, Marcelo Barros, Seán McDonagh, and so many others, who help me to re-think theological frames and to re-discover the beautiful creational strength of many theological concepts. I am grateful also to a mystic as Egied Van Broeckhoven, who ever more deeply draws me into the mystery of a God who enters into creation interweaving and connecting it more intimately in the myriads of encounters that constitute creation – an idea that I have termed “trincarnation”.
This week, on Dec 6, I was deeply happy when reading that the Brazilian bishop Erwin Kräutler had received the Right Livelihood Award for “a lifetime of work for the human and environmental rights of indigenous people and for his tireless efforts to save the Amazon forest from destruction.” Small events as these, little sniplets of news that easily escape our notice, are so full of life and strength … and they shed light on the deeper meaning of challenges as COP 16. I hope this has not gone unnoticed in Cancún …
A short vacation in Ireland gave me the opportunity to rediscover the beauty of nature and of the planet. Since then, I am on the lookout for the smallest of animals, that creep away there where we usually don’t see them. Little creatures, sometimes dangerous, but always so beautifully intricate and complex parts of an environment that we need to live. John Feehan taught me to always ask that simple question: “hey there, who are you?”, and to treat nature as a conversation partner, not as some useful tool at my disposal. The focus on the issues of biodiversity and the concept of Gaia, as developed by Jim Lovelock, has helped me to see how nature, how our planet, builds a whole, of which I am a part, to which I belong, in which all elements and living beings are jointly at stake. I find these comforting and stimulating thoughts confirmed in the work of people as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Thomas Berry and Michel Serres.
I feel also strengthened by being a Jesuit. Not only because I can rely on a spiritual tradition that provides me with tremendous tools to address the planetary environmental challenges (e.g., common apostolic discernment and Ignatius Loyola’s vision of the Cardoner, which has found its way into the Spiritual Exercises’ Contemplation to Obtain Love, …), but also because the universal Society of Jesus constitutes a unique, truly planetary network, that is present in the field, and has the resources to do research and education, as well as to advocate the case of people and concerns through the media and with politicians. And the Roman Catholic Church, to which I belong, constitutes a similar and even more complex planetary network. I know that the RCC and the Society of Jesus, for various reasons, are not always using the opportunity that has been given them, but at least there are here some platforms that offer possibilities and that can collaborate closely at a planetary level with many others and with many other religions. These networks give me the opportunity to meet extraordinary people from all over the world, who are engaged in this service of God’s people and creation. Here, I find people, organizations and initiatives that give me the support of critically challenging me, even when in desolation. I review their faces this evening, just out of gratitude.
These are but a few examples of deep consolations, even when a lot around me seems to drive me to anger and despair, to fear and discouragement. We need these consolations more than ever, to keep us going and to participate wholeheartedly in what I consider as God’s deep work in creation.