Tom discusses the urgent need for all to hear God's call to live simply, sustainably and in solidarity at all levels of live: domestic, poltical-social and theological / spiritual
October 2007 1594 words
To live simply, sustainably and in solidarity – we have shared, pondered and prayed these with various gatherings in the Liverpool area. They came as an invitation via CAFOD and other agencies, but are in reality a call from God.
We found that each of them could be taken at three levels – that of domestic economy, (decisions about shopping, travel, heating houses…) that of political-social (involvement in national and local politics…), and that of theology/spirituality.
We also came to see that learning to live in solidarity is the underlying call. It provides the context for living simply and sustainably.
And we also came to see that solidarity is more embracing than human solidarity. We are called, to-day, to know our solidarity with all creatures. When St John wrote that ‘God so loved the world’ and St Paul that ‘All creation groans…’they were probably thinking of the human world and creation. To-day we extend that to embrace all.
So let us go back a bit.
Time was when people thought the world was flat. (We still do so when we talk of sunrise and sunset). Then we discovered that the world was a globe, with the heavens going round it. Then in the seventeenth century we realised that we are a planet, spinning on itself and going round the sun. And then in the nineteenth we realised that we human beings are parts, not only of human history but of unfolding evolution.
Each of these breakthroughs gave us a new understanding of who we are as earthlings, and new glimpses into God’s narrative. Understanding something of evolution, for instance – how its successive stages of life forms, sexual reproduction, animal life, happening in seemingly insignificant ways before opening to whole new chapters – such understanding can give us profound insight into Christ’s resurrection. It was the moment in the evolving narrative when God could, in Christ initiate the new creation. It was the seemingly insignificant opening of the final chapter in which all would be incorporated and divinised.
Meanwhile our breakthroughs of awareness continue and we are presently being called to one as profound as all those earlier ones. Until now we have seen the rest of nature, by and large, as the backdrop and stage setting for the human drama being enacted on the forestage. Nature could be benign or threatening, fragile of robust, our home or not. But basically it was ‘there’ and would provide food and water, energy sources and raw materials, for as long as need be. The significant drama was that of ourselves and our history.
What we are now being called to realise is that the backdrop is itself part of the human drama and vice versa. That human activity, especially in recent decades, has affected many of the ‘givens’ in the rest of nature. Our activities in the modern industrial era have been exhausting finite resources, destroying biodiversity and affecting the whole climate balance of the planet.
We are learning the hard way that God’s creation and re-creation is an unfolding narrative about we earthlings as being an integral part of this planet earth. On the one hand we are created in God’s image with amazing powers of creativity, imagination, understanding and love. On the other hand we are rooted in this planet and its story. This is true of our biology and of our cultural belonging. But it is also true of our ability to have a language and our ability to understand biodiversity and affecting the whole climate balance of the planet.
We are learning the hard way that God’s creation and re-creation is an unfolding narrative about we earthlings as being part of this planet earth. On the one hand we are created in God’s image with amazing powers of creativity, imagination, understanding and love. On the other hand we are rooted in this planet and its story. This is true of our biology and our cultural; belonging. But it is also true of our ability to have a language and our ability to understand anything, which are drawn from our experience of the environment of which we are a part.
Perhaps we are now being called to appreciate that our own personal value in the heart of God is somehow within and not in spite of our solidarity with the whole.
In recent years there has been much thought-provoking writing on creation theology and the need to understand God’s presence and call within a new awareness of eco-diversity and eco-belonging, as it were.
But we need to go beyond what could be called Pelagian humanism – the tendency to see religion as a social phenomenon and God as a creator-who-has-left-it-all-to-us.
What has been revealed to us, and was at the heart of what Jesus urged, is that this world, including each of us, is an unfolding drama in which God is more intimately present than any of us can ever be. God so loved this world as to be embodied at the heart of its drama as the risen Son. In him God is covenanted to the new heaven and the new earth where God shall be all in all.
When Jesus used his enigmatic phrase ‘the Kingdom of God’ and urged us to pray that it be realised on earth, he was perhaps speaking of the real underlying drama which God is bringing to be. He is inviting us to be part of it.
This is no peaceful, pious programme. Jesus as the presence of God’s holiness in human affairs, created a crisis. He showed up where and how we handle gifts of wealth, learning and power in such a pre-occupied way that they serve themselves rather than the true underlying drama. He seems to have discovered from experience that the dangerous gifts of wealth, power and learning, unless handled with true poverty of spirit, lock people into their own kingdoms. It was the powerless, unlettered and poor who could, so often, sense God’s will being realised.
Our new awareness of global solidarity puts our faith-knowledge of God’s embodiment in Christ into a new and perhaps ominous context. In the first place, to be in the presence of God who is thus covenanted to the world more deeply than any of us can ever be energise us to live simply, sustainably and in solidarity. But we need to ponder a further question because most of us are prone to the same expectations as were voiced by the two disciples going to Emmaus: Surely God will restore all things in the way we would we expect. Isn’t that what his ‘coming’ is all about? (The great temptation for those created in God’s image is to recreate God in their image.)
Consider: This year is the turning point when the discovery of new sources of fossil fuels will be slower than the increasing demand for them. Consider: That within the next fifty years the world will have to produce more food than it has produced in all its previous history, (with bio-fuels competing for land use.) Consider: The widespread threats to bio-diversity on which we and all of nature depend far more than is appreciated, are increasing. Consider: That we are exhausting many of the raw materials, which took millions of years to deposit, within the space of a generation or two.
What realistic chance is there of engaging human creativity, imagination and humility to hear God’s call before time runs out? Towards the end of his life Jesus was urgent with the same question in his day. He knew that his own presence had created a crisis for the powers. And he foresaw that if they did not take hold of the ‘hour’ catastrophe lay ahead. Catastrophe, that is, in every human reading of history.
He foresaw the catastrophe which would befall his beloved Jerusalem forty years later. Just as later on the seer in the Book of Revelation foresaw catastrophe for the imperial powers because the dragon of imperial plausibility had set itself against the Lamb, slain and risen. The Lamb who alone unrolls the true meaning of history
But god is God, the holy I AM whose will, embodied in the drama, cannot be thwarted whatever the apparent evidence to the contrary. Just as in one sense the catastrophe of his own death on the cross was the moment where the new creation of the Risen Christ was born – so in another sense the catastrophe of imperial disintegration gave birth to the new heaven and the new earth.
The spirit of God is inviting us to go beyond treating God as a giver of precepts which, if followed, will enable us to save ourselves and our earth. And this is nowhere more powerfully presented than in the mystery of the Eucharist. We do not invite Christ to be a guest at our table, but discover ourselves to be guests, however bemused, at his. Is this not a model for the whole of our life on earth?
To be guests at the table of one who washes our feet and who disappears into bread and wine is surely to be guests on this earth of a God who calls us into the true story which is unfolding. We only come to know this, in a gut, heart, whole way when in practice we begin to tread lightly on earth and realise our communion with the dispossessed. To live simply, sustainably, and in solidarity is to know God.