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The Ecology of dependence and relationship with the One who made us for Himself.

We live within what Charles Taylor calls “the immanent frame,” a world reduced to naturalistic explanations increasingly closed off to the transcendent.

Yet while we might be “grateful for the growing body of scientific knowledge accumulated within the immanent frame,” says Doug Sikkema, “there are still troubling consequences when we lose sight of transcendence. As we become increasingly buffered from even the possibility that ‘something’ might transcend our sensible world, we have a much more difficult time really believing that humans are not just another type of animal and the world is not just a place of inert, material resources for us to use up in any way we can.”

A Radically Countercultural Refrain:

In “Laudato Si”, Pope Francis propounds a radically countercultural refrain:

Our love for the earth needs to be deeply connected to our love for others and, ultimately, to our love for the Creator.

Our relationship with the environment can never be isolated from our relationship with others and with God. Otherwise it would be nothing more than romantic individualism dressed up in ecological garb, locking us into a stifling immanence.

A Call to Ecological Shalom

In other words, says Sikkema, “care for the earth is only part of the much broader call to shalom, the recovery of true harmony among God, humanity, and the earth. It is the call to move in rhythm with the intended music of the spears that sin disrupted.”

Shalom is interdependence and interconnection of natural ecosystems, the built world, social relations, and God. Pope Francis calls this “integral ecology,” a move that drastically expands – actually recovers – the full scope of “nature’s economy.” His vision of a world in harmony in all its dimensions rest on recovering the paradox that God is both immanent and transcendent. God is at work in the impossible complexity of this-worldly relationships, yet also exists outside them, wholly other.

While intense flattening of ecology in the immanent frame has helped us understand our deep connections to the earth and our interdependence with all life forms, it has also helped us recover a humbling sense that we are mere dust, embodied creatures who were made to depend on the material world.

As Sikkema notes, “one doesn’t need to believe in God in order to care for the world. But if saving the world is only a matter of clean air and good food and reduced carbon emissions – that is, if its only about human survival – it can quickly be untethered from a deeper wisdom that teaches us how to live and be fully human.

Our Vocation:

We are called to Meditate on the World in order that we might find out more about the one who made it and us:

– to be humbled and awed by the mysteries we have yet to grasp;
– to care for nature as we’d care for the least among us;
– to restrain our desires and insatiable appetites that are capable of consuming the whole world;
– to realize that true possession is often in giving, not taking;
– to think about how our acts reverberate to others in different places and future times.

The Dogma of our Age

In contrast to the dominant cultural message (the dogma of our age) continually telling us that we are autonomous and secular (that is “in this age” only) – – we need to listen to the resound of the rest of creation: we are creatures made to depend and relate to the One who made us for Himself.

Further, we are ecological creatures meant to relate to the rest of creation and look out on the world around us in the immanent frame in ways we’ve perhaps forgotten. Sikkema concludes:

In the process,  we also can’t forget to look up… and strain to hear the harmonious music—the creative logos—of the heavens by which and for which the whole ecological order hangs together, and attune ourselves to this music in small individual acts and larger institutional acts that bring the health—a word connected to healing, wholeness, and holiness—of shalom into this world, our common home.

This is more enigma than dogma…

Credit for many quote fragments should be attributed to Doug Sikkema’s fine article, “Is Ecology Haunted: An Ecocritic Reads Laudato Si: The meaning of “ecology” that ecologists forget.”  Doug Sikkema is a senior researcher with Cardus, and is currently working toward his PhD in, among other things, “eco-criticism” at the University of Waterloo.