A few years ago I had the opportunity to visit the Grand Canyon. I was struck with awe at the majesty of the scenery. I felt a deep connection to the God who created the universe. I felt the same connection in 2007 when I was part of a field trip to the Burren in West County Clare in Ireland.
This is one of the most bio-diverse regions in Europe. The trip was part of an M.A. program in ecology and religion that is organized by Columbans in Ireland. As we examined the complex and fragile ecosystem of the region, I was struck with a deep sense of God’s presence and a desire to protect this beautiful gift from God.
In his message for the 1990 World Peace Day, Pope John Paul II called for an ecological conversion. Many Columbans have seen first-hand the effects, especially on the poor, of the unthinking destruction of God’s creation and as a result have experienced the ecological conversion that the Pope called for two decades ago.
While we are presented almost daily with differing predictions for the future, we are also warned that it is in our economic self-interest, if nothing else, to take action now, perhaps in hopes that fear of a terrifying future and of economic self-interest will motivate people, companies and governments to change. However, any change based on fear and self-interest will only be temporary.
It is when we look at the world as a gift from God that we can identify how so many of us have become disconnected from the earth. In many ways, we are suffering from an identity crisis. As more and more people move from an agrarian based lifestyle where the earth provides most of the family’s needs to a more urban lifestyle, we have lost our vital connection to the earth and the gifts produced by it – food, trees, water and more. We have less sense of our place in the universe.
We need to rediscover a sense of awe and wonder at God’s creation.
It seems that many of us have lost the capacity to relate with reverence to the natural world. It is a spiritual crisis. We need to rediscover a sense of awe and wonder at God’s creation. Only then will we have the sustained energy to change our attitude and way of living.
Let us pray that we can all respond to the appeal of Pope Benedict XVI in his message for World Peace Day 2010 when he wrote: “I invite all believers to raise a fervent prayer to God, the all-powerful Creator and the father of mercies, so that all men and women may take to heart the urgent appeal: If you want to cultivate peace protect creation.”
Fr. Eamon Sheridan serves on the Society’s General Council in Hong Kong.