Saturday, November 20, 2010

Faith Illustration: Christ At the Heart of The Web of Life

The science of ecology is a relatively new branch of scientific discipline that arose at the turn of the 20th century and became popular in the 1960's. The science is a subfield of biology that studies the phenomena of the relation of an organism with other organisms and the environment. The field of ecology is becoming much more prominent in the 21st century due to the effects of climate change. Because of the growing influence of ecology and the crisis of climate change, Christian theology and spirituality has also been actively engaging the discipline. As a matter of fact, a subfield of theology has emerged in the last ten years or so that is referred to as "ecological theology" or "environmental theology." The point and purpose of such a theology and corresponding spirituality is to adapt the Christian faith in such a way that "faith resources" can be mobilized to address how Christians might live and witness in the midst of one of the greatest crises to ever face the earth community.

In the last twenty years the teaching magisterium of the Catholic Church has also begun addressing the issue of climate change and the degradation of creation. In 1990, Pope John Paul II devoted his World Day Message of Peace to the theme of caring for creation (Peace with God, Peace with All Creation). Similarly, Pope Benedict XVI devoted his World Day Message of Peace to the same theme in 2010 (If You Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation). In 1995 the Bishops Conference of Appalachia wrote a document entitled, At Home in The Web of Life. The document was written in response to ecologically ruinous practices such as "mountain top removal" mining and the ill-effects these practices were having not only on the environment but especially on the poor who depend on a healthy Appalachian eco-system for their livelihood.

The metaphor of life as an intricate and delicate "web" made up of interconnected and interdependent systems of life has been gaining quite a bit of currency in ecology and theology and can also be adapted to reflect Christian convictions. For Christians, life is not a web that was assembled willy-nilly nor haphazardly. The Gospel of John states: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him, not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people." What this suggests for the Christian is that, at the center, or heart, of the web of life is Christ as the "governing principle" of creation. This governing principle is the same that is at the very heart of the relationship of the Trinity: mutual inherence and mutual interdependence.

"Mutual inherence" implies the recognition and full, unconditional acceptance of the other as "other" and allowing the uniqueness of the other to enter into our lives as such (without trying to manipulate or control). Mutual interdependence flows forth from mutual inherence: it is an interdependence that brings out the fullness of the ones who relate and brings to a fullness the relationship itself (what we refer to as "Holy Spirit" in the life of the Trinity). The above illustration of the web of life with the symbol of the Chi Rho (an ancient symbol of Christ) in the center is a call for Christians to recognize that we ultimately care for creation in order to promote the mutual inherence and mutual interdependence of all forms of life so that the world might be prepared for total consummation and communion with God who desires to be "all in all." Pat, TOR