Doing some blog catch-up this morning! Earlier this summer I read the environment encyclical, Laudato Si, with great interest, glad that the pope has called attention to the climate crisis as a theological issue. His use of maternal and birthing images at the beginning of the document intrigued me, and I took time to ponder them. The resulting essay, “Hidden Seeds in Laudato Si,” explores in detail the birthing implications that Francis likely was not aware of when he used the phrase “Sister Mother Earth.”
Clearly the pope regards climate change as a serious spiritual matter as the encyclical devotes an entire chapter to this aspect, but given his past statements it’s unsurprising that the implications of a feminine image like Sister Mother Earth are absent from the document. However, hidden in plain sight, a phrase used almost casually in the second paragraph opens a fruitful avenue for exploration. Following the statement about the earth being the most maltreated of our poor, the encyclical quotes Paul’s letter to the Galatians saying that creation “groans” in travail,” a text which refers to giving birth.
Creation is indeed groaning, but it’s not because of labor. Creation’s suffering is more like that of cardiovascular disease or cancer. The encyclical’s misuse of this scripture points to a widespread ignorance about the nature of pain in childbirth, a female body process that produces a universal human experience.All of us are born.Clarifying the misunderstanding calls forth new possibilities for an embodied ecological spirituality.
Read the full text at Feminism and Religion.
The best response to the encyclical that I read was by Ilia Delio, a Franciscan sister and theologian. Writing for National Catholic Reporter, she praises and supports the document but also points out that its view of the human person within creation remains rooted in an old understanding, which limits its impact.
The crises that Pope Francis highlights in Laudato Si’ are not due to recent events; rather they are at least 500 years in the making and are the consequence of cosmological and metaphysical shifts in our understanding of self and universe. Religiously, we have maintained a synthesis that is medieval in structure, while modern science has disclosed a world of change. To this day our prayers and worship reflect a fixed, three-tiered universe even though we do not live in such a universe.
We have become radically disconnected from one another because we have become radically disconnected from the whole, the cosmos. Nancy Ellen Abrams and Joel Primack expound the relationship between cosmos and anthropos in their book, The New Universe and the Human Future: How a Shared Cosmology Could Transform the World, indicating that a shared cosmology can help transform our fragmented world into a new unity: “There is a profound connection between our lack of a shared cosmology and our increasing global problems. We have no sense how we and our fellow humans fit into the big picture. . . . [W]ithout a big picture we are very small people.”
Read the full text here.