August 11, 2015

The Fragility of Creation

In my Sabbath observance over this past week, I have taken notice of the subtle shifts in environment since I was last in the mountains of Northern New Mexico. Some may say that five years is much too short a time to measure; I was last here in 2010. True, but perhaps I am paying more attention this pilgrimage.
In my treks over the Sangre Christo and San Juan Mountains, I have observed that many pines have died or are dying. This is due to global warming, undeniably. The winters have not been cold enough to kill off the beetle hoards that ravage these trees. In not too distant a future, many of these forests will be far less luxuriant and the ashen hues of dying will grow ever more visible.

Recently I was asked to write a theological analysis of the papal encyclical Laudato Si, subtitled “On Care for Our Common Home.” It invites the global church and other interested persons of good will to consider what is at stake in the deterioration of the environment, especially the human roots of the ecological crisis. The key declaration of Pope Francis is that the climatological change harms the poor most of all.
The beauty of creation sustains the soul. Rudolph Otto wrote about the mysterium tremendum et fascinans, that inexplicable transcendent experience as one engages the numinous reality in which we live. This sense of the holy creeps upon the observer almost imperceptibly, and it astonishes with creation’s stunning beauty. As I have habituated the chair lifts of Angel Fire, Red River, and Taos, I have witnessed the silence and wonder of those viewing the grandeur unfurled in the mountains.
The summons in our time is for a new regard for the fragility of creation. It is an urgent challenge, and many resist the changes required to care for the home entrusted to us.

In the Christian understanding of the world, the destiny of all creation is bound up with the mystery of Christ, and the gaze of Jesus grants dignity to all that is. His wonder at the beauty of the natural world is compelling, and following his example would allow humanity to find their rightful place in the paschal rhythms of God’s economy. The focus on incarnation both elevates the human responsibility and warns against misguided anthropocentrism.
Humans cannot claim to be persons of faith if there is not concern about the impact of our patterns of living upon future generations and the kind of ecology they will inherit. Humans pose a grave apocalyptic threat, not some destructive act of God.

My time at the preacher’s cabin has come to an end, and I am the better for it. My Sabbath observance prompts me to consider ways in which churches might renew their teaching and preaching on the doctrine of creation, emphasizing our role as stewards of this lovely, but fragile world. We need to be continuously converted toward all living things and humbly receive this creation as God’s loving gift.
Molly T. Marshall
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