An Ecological Change of Heart
Written by: John O'Keefe
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Last fall the Society of Jesus issued a special report on ecology. The document, titled Healing a Broken World, can fairly be described as an ecological call to action directed at all Jesuit and partner apostolates around the world. That would include this blog. “We need a deep change of heart,” the authors wrote. “This is the only radical way to face the present ecological challenge.”
We don’t often think of “changes of heart” as radical. The phrase sounds more like changing ones mind or making a minor adjustment. However, the authors of Healing a Broken World clearly had something more than this in mind: a radical change of heart is nothing less than a conversion. We need a conversion in our attitude toward the earth, a fundamental reversal in perception, a radical reorientation.
Conversion is really about perception. I remember when I was first converted to belief in God in my late teens, it was as if some entirely new aspect of reality suddenly opened before me. That reality was always there, how could I not have seen it? Similarly, a series of trips to the developing world effected a radical shift in my perception of the poor. Since then message of the social gospel sounds with piercing clarity, a metronomic rhythmic baseline grounding everything else. The poor are not an issue like, say, net-neutrality or property taxes. These things matter, but they don’t matter ultimately. The continued existence of crushing poverty matters ultimately. This reality makes it impossible to pretend that all is well, that my choices don’t matter, and that I really do deserve everything and the poor nothing. Once we have seen the depth of injustice, turning away our face is a sin against the Holy Spirit. Changes of heart at this level lead to changes of life. Conversions are supposed to be radical.
For too long we have talked about the environment as if it were an “issue.” The environment is not an issue. The environment is, to quote Pope Benedict XVI, “the setting for our life.” The environment is the reality in which we find ourselves embedded. There is no life, no existence, no perception of God, no knowledge, no love, no longing, no anything at all apart from this reality. We are, in a way, the environment. The traditional theological word that names this totality is “creation.” Creation is God’s work, it is everything that is not God. God alone is uncreated. Everything else that exists is created. As creatures, our entire destiny, even into eternity, is tied to the destiny of the creation. There is no existence outside creation. More locally to us, there is no life outside the earth. We are earthlings all the way down.
The environment is not an issue. We need a radical change of heart, a fundamental reorientation in the way in which we think about ourselves in relationship with creation. For too long we have seen ourselves as conquerers of the limitations of our nature. Now we are beginning to realize that that our war against limits is a war against ourselves. We need a change of heart, we need to change our lives, we need to live differently, radically so. We need to do it now.
Unofficial Earth Day Flag” by Flatbush Gardener from Flickr (Used under Creative Commons license)