A Social Justice and Faith Webzine


by Ted Schmidt

ted schmidt

The earth dries up and withers,
The world languishes and withers;
the heavens languish together with the earth.
The earth lies polluted
under its inhabitants;
for they have transgressed laws,
violated the statutes,
broken the everlasting covenant.

Isaiah 24: 4,5

O Lord, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom you have made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures…

Ps. 104: 24

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork…

Ps.19: 1

To him who can see, nothing is profane.
Teilhard de Chardin

James Carroll in his provocative little book Toward a New Catholic Church sets out five proposals to renovate the institution he loves. His first suggestion he titles "A New Biblical Literacy." His point is well taken and one which I can readily appreciate. For years I have taught teachers and found this well-educated group lamentably lacking in understanding scripture. Now if this is true for teachers, how much more true is it for the average person in the pew? It should be obvious that grasp of how the sacred story came to be would be important to us. A fundamentalist reading
of basic texts, as recent history shows, is dangerous. Witness apocalyptic Christians, gun-toting settler Jews, and rabid Islamists.

     Just as dangerous and closely aligned to biblical literacy is theological literacy. The former freezes our capacity to appropriate the living Word of God, while the latter prevents us from integrating new insights into God’s revelation for us today.

      Fundamentalism germinates in a climate of fear, the fear of the Other, the different one. With the rapid acceleration of globalization and the dizzying speed of change, fundamentalism drives frightened people back to tribal and chauvinist sensibilities. It drives out compassion and loses the more humane universalist perspective. By lionizing the past and raising it to iconic status beyond criticism, fundamentalism, both biblical and theological, misses the fresh out-breaking of God in our times. In theology as in life, a rear-view mirror is necessary, but a rear-view mirror alone (be it dogmatic, scriptural or creedal) will literally cause you to crash as you miss the life-giving promptings of the ever-new God arriving on the horizon. In the end this is a
failure of faith, an inability to appropriate a healthy doctrine of the Holy Spirit. While correctly distrusting fads, literalists too often miss "the new thing" God is doing for us today. Revelation is ongoing and I wish to illustrate this with a new theological insight, not yet apprehended by the more literalist among us.

     Thirty years ago Christians understood little about the revelatory impact of creation. Theologians, many of them female and maybe closer to the earth, began to theologize about the simple fact that the earth, not the Bible, is our fundamental meeting place with God. So says Sally McFague who also writes that the world or universe can be seen as God’s body, that the Incarnation must move beyond Jesus of Nazareth to include all matter. "God
is incarnated in the world," she writes.

     Many other theologians have pointed out that this rich vein of thought goes back to the Psalmist, Paul, and the mystics– all have seen God as the divine milieu, deeply immanent and part of the creation. This is called panentheism or literally from its Greek roots, "everything in God." This theological current is an ecological way of thinking about God. Is it new? Not really. We may call it a recovered truth. Our great nature mystic Francis embraced this vision. In his Canticle of the Sun, the poor man of Assisi understood all creation — earth, air, water, moon, plants, etc. as "brothers and sisters," partaking in God and in effect, "sacramental," reflective of the self-donation of God. Thousands of sacraments then explode around us, inviting us to a deep reverence for life, a theology more centred on creation rather than fallenness and redemption.

     All theologies in the end are metaphors, which serve in enabling us to understand the relationship of God to the world. None can exhaust God but it should be obvious that the distant transcendent monarchical and patriarchal God has seen its day as a metaphor capable of energizing the people of God. Theologians like McFague, Thomas Berry, Brian Swimme, John B. Cobb, Matthew Fox, Rosemary Radford Reuther and others are tapping into a rich vein here. Readers of this essay might wish to familiarize themselves with their liberating thought.

     The universe, our world then is "in God" though God is not reduced to the world. But what we have seen and understood only latterly is that with the coming of the Industrial Age, God’s body is being ravaged, scarred and torn apart. Forests are disappearing along with topsoil; species are vanishing, water is polluted and ozone is being depleted. Mother earth is dying and our Aboriginal peoples who kept this wisdom alive are barely surviving. Wonder-world as Berry suggests is becoming waste-world. Humans, he says, have been in an autistic trance…but the good news is that we are awakening. The resistance has been forming all over the world. Chiapas, Seattle, Washington, Quebec and Kananaskis in Canada, Porto Alegre are now familiar names of principled eruption against earth degradation. I name this activity as the Holy Spirit of Resistance. In our time the third person of the Blessed Trinity will be known not as Comforter but Resister. Just as God can be imaged in many ways, so can God’s Holy Spirit. We are now being called to resist the desecration of God’s body. This is our holy task.

     Next month I mean to deepen these thoughts, but for now I will finish with some basic observations.

     First, the good news. The Church is on to this in their institutional
form. For example, in February of 2001, the Social Affairs Commission of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a powerful document entitled "The Common Good or Exclusion: A Choice for Canadians." In part it read, "the principle of the common good should also lead to increased care for creation, understood as the sustenance and flourishing of life for all beings…with one in 10 species of birds, one in four species of mammals and over half of all species of primates on the planet threatened with extinction, the ‘common good’ takes on a new meaning." The document called on the government "to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, protect species and enhance
environmental protection."

     In June of this past year, the Commission reiterated this, and called on David Anderson, our federal environmental minister, to ratify the protocol "and address the problems of climate change already occurring throughout the earth." In the last part of its letter, the Commission made the point I am making in this essay. "These are not only economic issues. In every world religion there are themes of a spirituality or sacredness of the earth.
Those who contemplate the earth soon come to have a great sense of wonder. In our time perhaps more than any other, we need to reawaken a sense of wonder and reverence for the earth as one means of fostering a sense of care for creation and solidarity with others."

     The more dispiriting news, of course, is that this has not become an urgency for the people of God in their parishes, or with their youth ministry. The past World Youth Day seemed unaware that this must be the pastoral priority of humanity today. When I speak to groups I often ask if they have ever heard a homily on this topic in their parishes. You know what the answer
is? To this disturbing reality I will return next month.

Ted Schmidt is Editor of Catholic New Times

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