There is a certain delicious irony in the devout Catholic former Senator who proposed an amendment (bearing his name) to the 2001 Education Funding Bill calling for the teaching of intelligent design in schools and questioning the scientific basis of evolution, suggesting that the Pope, who holds a degree in chemistry, should “leave science to the scientists.” Just saying.
Rick Santorum is not the only one to go public about Laudato Si’ — the Papal encyclical on the environment – before it was even released. His statement came as part of a wave of commentary from (self-defined) conservative, devout (primarily Roman Catholic) politicians, business owners, bankers, publishers, editorialists, and lobbyists. And the common underlying theme to most of the commentary was that the(ir) Pope should stick to matters of the spirit and be quiet about everything else – especially anything and everything that might have an economic impact on the wealth of the wealthiest or a political impact on the power of the most powerful.
Under no circumstances apparently should the Pope preach the gospel.
All irony aside, it seems to me that what Francis is really proclaiming, what really has everyone’s knickers in a twist (as they say here in England), is the truth that compartmentalizing our lives – or attempting to do so – is a diabolic choice. In the literal sense. Just as ‘symbolic’ describes those ideas, words, images, acts, that tie or bind things together, ‘diabolic’ describes what tears things apart, what separates, what rends…what dis-integrates. It is very easy to slide down dangerous slopes at increasingly deadly speed when we dis-connect, set ourselves apart from our neighbors and our world.
What Francis won’t do in Laudato Si’ is separate ‘spiritual concerns’ from ‘political concerns’ or ‘economic concerns’. What he doesn’t do is pretend that ‘the environment’ can be viewed as an entity divorced from human life or the life of other species. What he refuses to bow to is the pressure to temper his prophetic voice to the prevailing winds of power and wealth.
I suspect I am not fully aware of what a deeper and purer commitment to healing and protecting the environment will mean in my own life. I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that it will mean shifting some of my priorities and paying attention to habits and behaviors in which I currently engage without thinking. (See: Culture Tilt) I suspect this because I have noticed that while we all appear to love the idea of the butterfly effect, we don’t seem to want to live with its implications when those implications affect our own luxurious life, or our comfort, or our profit margins, or our personal status, or our addictions. Francis is steadfastly holding humanity’s feet to the fire. Have you noticed that it is rare for this Pope to speak to “the faithful” (meaning Roman Catholics)? He speaks broadly, inviting everyone into the conversation. I don’t agree with him on every point he makes, but I don’t feel dismissed or ignored or silenced; I sense his respect for others (even those with whom he disagrees) and his desire to unite humankind in a vision that is bigger than any one perspective. Even his own.
In Unitarian Universalist circles we call this shalom vision of unity ‘the interdependent web of creation.’ On that web (or in that tapestry if you are an arachnophobe and webs just don’t work for you – ) every point is connected to every other. A wind blowing across one edge will ripple across the whole expanse (the butterfly effect). Nothing happens anywhere that isn’t connected through fibers and nodes to everything else. As John Donne put it centuries ago, ‘No [one] is an island…’
By a strange coincidence (or not, depending on how you view coincidence), the Supreme Court just (just – as I was writing…) announced its ruling that states cannot deny same gender marriage. It was a 5-4 ruling – something that didn’t happen in my childhood when the Chief Justice insisted on unanimous or near unanimous decisions – with one of the dissenting judges frothing at the mouth about the unreasonable authority of the Supreme Court to tell people what is and is not constitutional (which is its own kind of irony, if you don’t mind my saying so). This particular (Roman Catholic) Supreme Court judge seems to have no time or respect for the Pope (the temporal head of the Roman Catholic church to which the judge belongs) or the Pope’s firm pronouncement that righteous judgment can only be rendered by God and that Catholics, at least, should err on the side of compassion and humility.
Francis, advocating connection, understanding, compassion, and wise humility, encourages us to be more connected, more vulnerable, more thoughtful, more loving, more aware of our choices and how those choices are life-giving and life-affirming, or life-denying and life-destroying. The Supreme Court judge, along with many of his (neo)conservative brethren would prefer to divide: my way from your way, the right from the left, spirit from body, American from Alien, Christian from non-Christian (preferably with the judge in question making the call on who belongs in which camp).
There is only one answer to this: to remain connected. To remain connected even with those people who try to shut us out, silence us, ignore us, demean us, shame us, shout us down, lock us up, frighten us into submission. There is only one answer: to connect in as many ways as we can, to throw lines of silk across the abyss between us and make knots at our end. To hang on and refuse to walk away. We are in this together. Francis has reminded us gently, poetically, firmly that we share one planet. We will reach shalom together or not at all.
And speaking of knots: as you read this today, our beautiful niece, Rebecca, is marrying her beloved Christina at her parents’ home in New York. [Thank you, Supreme Court, for making this possible in every state.] My husband and I cannot be there; our daughter will represent us and celebrate one more silken knot in the interdependent web.
Text © 2015, Andrea La Sonde Anastos
The first photo is of the Horsehead Nebula. It is copyright 2009, Nigel Sharp (NOAO). It is used by permission.
All other Photos © 2015 Immram Chara, LLC