Families blog – Let the world be

Ann Rennie 1 September 2023

In shaping the world to meet humanity’s needs, humans need to be mindful of the difference between dominion and domination.

The Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, in his poem Inversnaid writes of the beauty of this small village on Loch Lomond in Scotland. He is rapturous about the beauty of nature in all its unspoilt glory. Then in a moment of lament he continues:
What would the world be, once bereft,
Of wet and wildness, let them be left
O let them be left, wildness and wet
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet . . .

Today we are looking at a world bereft; a world that has lost some of its natural beauty through plunder and profiteering, through mechanisation which strips trees from hills and spills toxins into waterways and causes species to become extinct and the garbage littering the oceans to grow.

Much as we have made great progress since the Industrial Revolution, we have also lost sight of the planet as our nurturing mother Earth. Indigenous tribes globally lived for generations in an integral ecology where their use of the land did not sear or scar the landscape around them. Earth was seen as bountiful, and it was to be treated with respect because of its seasonal gifts and the abundance which helped feed and shelter ancient peoples. Reaping and sowing was done with the thought of replenishing crops and using the land well.

In the book of Genesis we see God creating earth, sea and sky and seeing that it was good. Happy with his handiwork, he appointed man to have dominion, not domination, over all creatures. Dominion is about care, not exploitation, so that the earth could be harvested with a sense of responsibility. Words such as stewardship and sustainability may not have been used but this was unwritten ethical code of our ancestors.

There was no room for greed or profligacy, but enough for each and every one. Kinship counted for something and that meant all were looked after.

Growing up, I shared a bedroom with four siblings, five of us in a long room we called ‘the dorm’, raised as we were on a diet of boarding school adventure stories, jolly hockey sticks and midnight feasts. We had fun and games . . . and our parents always knew where we were and what we were up to. Imagine then how it was for Jesus and his family living in one room with the animals close by and the rest of the village a mudbrick wall away. Today, in the rich western world, many children have their own bedrooms, some with ensuites and walk-in wardrobes and a media room along the hallway. The production of such lifestyle excess partners all those actions which affect deleteriously on the future health and safety of our global home.

Have we lost sight of something essential? Perhaps what makes us happy is not the space around us but the space between us.

We all know there is no Planet B. The animated film Wall-E tells a dystopian tale of human excess and environmental blindness where the population of the planet is transported to live on a satellite. The common home for all cultures and creeds has been used up, desecrated and abandoned. There is no longer wet, wild and wilderness, just the deforestation, desertification and drying up of a planet ravaged to the point where human life can no longer be supported.

Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato Si reminds us that we live in interdependence with each other and all living species. He wants us to hear the cry of the poor and the cry of the Earth, especially in a consumerist, throwaway culture. He writes that ‘a healthy relationship with creation is one dimension of overall personal conversion, which entails the recognition of our errors, sins, faults and failures, and leads to heartfelt repentance and desire to change’.

As well as climate change, we also need to act on the structural, ideological and technological changes needed to create equality, equity and access, especially for those on the margins. Anything less diminishes what it is to be part of the human family.

Pope John Paul II spoke of ecological conversion and Francis reminds us that part of the duty of faith is to cherish the world we live in. We are invited to be in kinship with all living things, acknowledging our interdependence and urged to leave the planet as God’s gift to our children’s children.

The question remains: What would the world be?

Ann Rennie is a Melbourne writer, teacher and former REC. She believes in the Good News and the power of words to change the world.


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