Nature and relationships


Righting our relationship with nature

Nature and human development can coexist if love guides creativity and interaction. Then, are we ready and willing to change our lifestyle?

By Emilie Christy and Susan Kopp

from Living City April 2012

A 2011 gallup poll in the U.S. revealed that people’s concern for environmental issues has reached an all-time low — the widest margin in nearly 30 years. Everything has dramatically moved toward a pro-economy position, with 54% of Americans giving priority to economic growth over the 36% who continue to hold environmental protection as paramount. Contrast this with a similar poll done in 2000, where 67% were concerned with the environment and only 28% considered the economy a priority.

Some suggest that this new trend is an effect of pragmatism (valuing what is efficient or cost effective), utilitarianism (investing in something or someone only if it is useful), or even consumerism (our preoccupation with buying and having things). 

Few if any would argue with the fact that sustainable development and energy sources are essential to securing a future for ourselves and the generations to come. Yet we all know the challenges: the decreasing availability of clean water, expanding toxic landfills, global warming, loss of biodiversity and extreme positions on both sides of the argument that only turn off further discussion.

Can there be another approach? Maybe there is another perspective that can open a more fruitful dialogue. 

St. Thomas Aquinas sheds some light on the nature of our relationship with the universe and the universe with its creator. He saw the diversity of creation as a reflection of God’s glory and that God created such a diverse and beautiful world so that what one creature was lacking in the representation of the divine goodness might be made up by another. He concluded that the universe as a whole participates in the divine goodness more perfectly and represents it better than any single creature does.

A double challenge

Reconciling relationships that have been neglected or broken will help restore the gift and beauty of creation, which has been entrusted to us for the good of humanity. This presents us with ethical and moral challenges and, at the same time, with opportunities to open doors to dialogue among all those who can play a part in renewing and creating a balanced society for tomorrow.

In his message for the 1990 World Day of Peace, Pope John Paul II stated that the ecological crisis is not simply environmental, technological or economic; it is rather theological and moral. He affirmed that the search for solutions cannot be separated from our basic worldview, from our understanding of the human person, from relationships among persons and peoples, and our relationship to all of creation.

Care for the environment is not one issue among many in our society today, according to John Paul II. He observed that it provides the framework within which almost all current social issues should be considered, in light of their immense economic and political implications.

Caring for the environment impels us to look toward the future, to complete the work of creation that is journeying towards it fulfillment, to restore its harmony for the good of all.

The pope added that only the responsible and coordinated action of men and women can complete this work of creation and, in doing so, share in the fulfillment of the divine plan. He acknowledged that they are also free to not do so, which can lead to further social problems.

To solve the problems we face, we have a double challenge: one of personal conversion and change of lifestyle, and one of social change.

Love beneath all things

One of the most breathtaking world heritage sites is the area of the Dolomite Mountains in northern Italy. Since its origins in that region, the international Focolare Movement has been marked by a deep respect for creation and nature. The lives of its founder, Chiara Lubich, and of her friends were deeply intertwined in the life of these mountains. Over the years, on a number of occasions, especially in addressing youth, she has spoken about our relationship with nature and the importance of working for the preservation of our planet. 

During the summer of 1949, while Chiara and her early companions were on vacation in a village there and intensely living the life of the Gospel, they intuited God’s presence in creation as the immanent law itself, regulating relationships among all the components of nature.

If the very nature of God is love, and we along with all of creation are a reflection of God who is love, then all that we see and experience can only be that reflection.

“We perceived the presence of God beneath all things,” Chiara wrote. “If pine trees glistened in the sun; if the brooks flowed into glimmering falls; if the daisies, other flowers and the sky were all decked in summer array; then even more evident than all this was the vision of a sun that lay beneath all creation. In a certain sense I saw, I believe, God who sustains, who upholds all things.

“This was also true for every man and woman, for humanity, the flower of creation. Consequently, we felt that each person was created as a gift for the person next to them, and that the person next to them was created by God as a gift for that person. Everything on earth is in a relationship of love with everything else; each thing with each other thing … 

“If people choose not economic interests or selfishness but love for others and for nature as their goal, then through their contribution the earth will be transfigured to the point that it becomes an earthly paradise” (see Living City, April 2007).

Respect, love and reciprocity

“This understanding, so in conformity with biblical thinking,” environmental ethicist Sergio Rondinara writes, “restores that original relationship existing among nature, the human person, and God … a relationship that has many times been lost in our modern world.” 

Nature and human development are often seen as being in conflict with one another. Some feel that if human initiative is given free rein, nature suffers the consequences. In fact, we’re seeing the destructive environmental impact caused by uncontrolled technological development.

On the other hand, if nature is to be preserved at all costs from any human intervention, some would say that human creativity is being suppressed. This seems true — since human creativity isn’t always guided by love, but rather by a model of development centered on profit.

So, what should be our role? “We have to be love,” Chiara said, “in order to discover the golden thread that links all things” in a relationship of love. Here lies the call to arms, so to speak, to love in our families, at work and in our interactions with nature.

This tension between nature and human development can acquire a new vision when it is centered on love. Love, little by little, can form the basis for a new environmental “mode of conduct” that will respect both nature and human creativity, and bring all of creation ahead along the same path, in collaboration and in communion.

On the following pages, stories from our contributors and readers will demonstrate this new way of interacting with the environment and one another when respect, love and reciprocity are at the basis of our actions.               

International Earth Day: April 22 (announced)