Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
May 14, 2007
Our souls yearn to commune with nature
The Quebec bishops have called for an expanded spirituality of work with their May 1 statement, Life-Work Balance in the Digital Era (WCR, May 7). They warn of too much reliance on technology and a distrust of our own instincts and direct observations in diagnosing and solving problems.
We should maximize the benefits of the digital revolution, the bishops say, but should also "remain connected to ourselves and to our world." Technology runs the risk of distancing us from our God, from our families and communities, and from nature.
Too often, we want everything and we want it now. Yet when we get the object of our desire, inevitably it fails to bring real joy.
Joy is found through communion - communion with God, communion with other people and communion with nature. The fast pace of modern life threatens these connections. It threatens our spirituality.
It is possible and desirable to be a contemplative in the world, making every act of one's daily life an act taken in union with God. Yet such "contemplation" cannot happen without significant times taken away from the hurly-burly for quiet openness to the action of the Spirit. Without such periods of retreat and silence, we surrender the depth of our humanity.
Likewise, our communion with humanity is undermined when everything becomes a task where there is no real encountering of the other. Intimate relationships with others are key to pulling us out of the prison of our selves.
There is a third element of human relatedness that our concrete jungle is making clear. Our souls yearn for a communion with nature. When we spend all of our time indoors relating to people and technology, we lose our connection with the earth.
We are called to be in communion with Mother Earth who is the source of our physical life and whose beauty can refresh our souls.
The purity of this communion was shattered at Eden, but we still have hope for a partial restoration of that community.
However, Western society is generally moving toward less communion with nature, rather than more.
For there to be true communion, the relationship must be one of mutuality. For us to be in communion with nature, we must not only receive what nature offers, but must also give something of ourselves to it.
Here we can look to St. Francis of Assisi who, through Christ, to some extent re-entered the Garden overcoming the sin of Adam.
We see this most explicitly in Francis stripping naked before the noble ruler of his city. The shame of sin that Adam and Even revealed by clothing their most intimate bodily parts was reversed in the man of poverty who let everything go to be one with God.
We also see this in Francis' ability to communicate with the animals and to see the sun as his brother and the moon as his sister. The holiness, the personal fulfillment, of this great saint was very much related to his communion with nature. Pope John Paul II affirmed this in making Francis the patron of ecology.
Only now - 800 years after Francis' death - is the Christian Church beginning to explicitly incorporate the notion of ecological communion into its life. The ecological crisis of our times is forcing us to think through this issue.
Francis was surely a man of his times. He is also a man for our times, a saint whose life continues to be a well from which we can draw new understanding.
The Quebec bishops do not push the issue of the relationship between humanity and technology this far. Likely, some day the Church will do so. But the bishops do call us to slow our pace of life so that we can be more in tune with our God, our selves, other humans and nature itself. It is an important call to us as spring slowly reveals its gentle hand to us.
- Glen Argan
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