In Marilynne Robinson's novel, Gilead, an elderly clergyman writes to his much younger son, "This is an interesting planet. It deserves all the attention you can give it." I was reminded of these two short sentences yesterday, on Earth Day. As mentioned in a recent newsletter, I've been rereading Pope Francis' encyclical letter, Laudato Si' over the past few months. One of the themes he returns to is how our contemporary lifestyle, particularly for those of us in the industrialized West, detaches us from the rhythm of creation. "Human beings and material objects," writes Francis, "no longer extend a friendly hand to one another; the relationship has become confrontational." This antagonist stance, aided by what the pope calls our "technocratic paradigm" distances us from nature; it works against our attentiveness.
When we think about attending to creation, we are likely to first consider the plants and animals with whom we share our communities. Driving through Chicago congestion this week, I was startled to watch a squirrel treat an electrical line as a convenient overpass. Last year I watched a coyote explore the park across the street from our church office. Depending on where you live, your experiences with nature might be a bit more... natural.
Of course, we are a part of nature too. We belong, in Francis' words, to the "universal communion" through which we "are linked by unseen bonds and together form a kind of universal family." If there is only one Creator, than we must take our place among the rest of God's creatures. And the same forces which work against us seeing the plants and animals around us also warp how we see one another. What Francis writes about the manipulative power of the technocratic paradigm is true for how it is applied against human and non-human creation. He writes that this "paradigm exalts the concept of a subject who, using logical and rational procedures, progressively approaches and gains control over an external object."