Friday, June 19, 2015

Laudato Si': The world is a joyful mystery

Yew tree in the middle of the cloister
Franciscan friary of Irrelagh, Killarney National Park
“Prejudice should not have us criticize those who seek ecstasy in music or poetry. There is a subtle mystery in each of the movements and sounds of this world. The initiate will capture what is being said when the wind blows, the trees sway, water flows, flies buzz, doors creak, birds sing, or in the sound of strings or flutes, the sighs of the sick, the groans of the afflicted...” — Sufi mystic Ali al-Khawas quoted in Laudato Si'

Yesterday I read Laudato Si' from start to finish, sitting in my cool study, where (if the windows are open as they are now) I can hear the wind stirring in the trees, the bees humming, birds calling and the groans of the neighborhood air conditioners.  It wasn't particularly hot here yesterday, but terribly humid and so I'd turned on the little window air conditioner to wring some of the water out of the air.  That lasted until I read [55]:
"People may well have a growing ecological sensitivity but it has not succeeded in changing their harmful habits of consumption which, rather than decreasing, appear to be growing all the more. A simple example is the increasing use and power of air-conditioning."
I felt like I'd been snatched from my desk and dumped back into the basement at Eastern Point retreat house, midway through the First Week of the Exercises, painfully and excruciatingly aware of how my daily life tramples others.  Earlier in the text, Pope Francis had noted that the goal of this first exericse was we might "become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it." [19]

Now that I've read to the end, I'm no less uncomfortable, and busily asking myself not only what I can do, but how long I can continue to be "painfully aware."  Can I change my life in response to this awareness?  Pope Francis makes clear that this is not a problem to be solved and then its back to our regular programming, but a call to a new way of living, one that acknowledge the preferential option for the poor in all that it does.

As a scientist, though, perhaps my favorite line is "the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise." [12]

So far, my favorite response to the encyclical is this one from Jennifer Fitz at Sticking the Corners:  "The terrible problem with Laudato Si'"

My column on Laudato Si' for CatholicPhilly can be found here.

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