These past two weeks there has been a lot said about the environment, certainly in the Catholic Church. Pope Francis recently published an encyclical which is a papal letter on the environment. It's long for a letter and comprehensive in its survey of how we are destroying the environment because of consumerism, greed, lack of reverence for life and an understanding of nature being there for our satisfaction and use. It recognises the great inequality between people with some living in luxury at the expense of the poor and exploiting the earh's resources for their own end. It can be overwhelming to consider what we as human beings are doing to our world and and the future looks bleak if we don't do something about it. Somehow our generation is caught up in the present moment with no thought of future generations even though each one of us would want the best for our children and would want them to live in a healthy and safe environment. The Pope gives practical ideas for caring for our environment but at heart what he asks for is a change of heart which will change our thinking and approach to the created world. He calls us not just to remember how all of creation is interconnected but to feel this in our very bones so that we feel "the desertification of the soil almost as a physical ailment and the extinction of a species as a painful disfigurement". He calls us to reverence the sacredness of the earth and to use its resources well realising that they are on loan to us and that we have a duty to care for the earth for the sake of future generations.
All religions teach this care for the earth. Most of them teach that human beings are creatures and gifted with life and even Buddhism that doesn't believe in a Creator God stresses the interconnectedness of all things and treating the earth with reverence and respect. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, to walk on the earth is a miracle and we should do it mindfully.I recently came across John Moriarty and was struck by his desire that we should come home to the eath, seek to walk beatifully on it and reject a sense of them and us to move towards a 'we' feeling with trees, animals. oceans and all living things. It's not just humanity that's in it together but the whole world and the whole universe and each part of it is to be respected. "To see anything as less than it is is to sin against it" - something Pope Francis would agree with.
While the major religions call their followers to care for the earth and give reflective moments to remind us that we are finite and vulnerable creatures, it's indigenous people that keep alive this connectedness with the earth. Sometimes they're called pagan and considered inferior to the more developed religions, even in some situations being forcibly converted and their culture destroyed or in more recent times here in Scotland not being welcome at the table of interfaith dialogue. But their sense of the sacredness of the earth and their understanding of it as a living body teaches us that to damage any part of this body is to damage the whole body. They have a wisdom that we ignore to our peril and the peril of our children.