While spring cleaning recently, I found boxes of schoolbooks belonging to my children going back over 20 years, many of which were only half used. As I flicked through the books I remembered how, in the 1970s, we were forbidden to tear out pages when we made a mistake because each book had only enough pages for the year and tearing a page out would mean providing extra books, costing extra money.
As I looked at the books, I thought about their origins as tall trees with roots deep in the earth, growing to stretch their branches and leaves into the air, absorbing our carbon dioxide and replacing it with oxygen. I thought about their being felled to produce the pulp which was made into paper and then into the books. Teachers were rightly concerned about financial and budgetary restrictions, but as a child, I barely understood that more fundamental chain of connection, never mind its real costs.
Here at the edge of Europe, we have rarely been concerned about use and waste of resources, regarding creation as something which is at our disposal to meet our growing needs and demands. Pope Francis has consistently challenged that attitude, particularly since publishing Laudato Si in 2015. He has been promoting a mindset of appreciation and care for the created world, urging us to reject our consumerist lifestyle which supports a constant cycle of buying, using and disposing.
During the recent lockdown however, many people have experienced a spiritual richness through a closer connection to nature and God’s gift of creation. One thing which has struck me is that nature never wastes anything; the relationships between the various species and plants, the threads of the web of life, are so carefully and delicately constructed that each species both benefits from and takes responsibility for their place in that web. Except us.
We are living in a climate emergency. We are tearing too many pages from our exercise books and the cost is proving to be great. But each day is a new opportunity to do better and we can still make a difference.
Recently we have adapted and changed how we live, even recognising creation as a source of beauty, prayer, comfort and peace, not simply a resource for us to use and abuse. Can we also realise that creation is a common good, a gift from God which belongs to everyone and that caring for creation means caring for all life with which we share it? We are one thread of the web of the life, not its masters, challenged to behave as we would want to be treated, to love the Lord our God with all our heart and love our neighbour as ourselves. Our neighbour is every part of creation: all life, people next door, and those on the other side of the world too. Pope Francis reminds us that everything is interconnected and interdependent; how we live, the pollution we create, what we consume, waste and throw out affects all of God’s creation.
By loving and cherishing all living things as our own flesh and blood, we will protect the fragile web of life that is God’s creation, live the gospel more fully and safeguard some pages in the book for our children and grandchildren.
Dympna Mallon is the Laity Coordinator of the Society of African Missions, Dromantine, Newry
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