By James Bhagwan, Fiji
Last Thursday, I attended the last of the 2017 Public Lecture Series organised by the Pacific Theological College’s Institute for Mission and Research, the University of the South Pacific’s Faculty of Arts, Law and Education and the Pacific Regional Seminary around the theme “Churches in Conversation with Society on Issues that Matter”.
The speaker was Archbishop Peter Loy Chong of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Suva. His topic: “Reweaving the Ecological Mat – Ecology and Development”.
As a starting point, Archbishop Chong encouraged a talanoa (discussion) about what we hold sacred from our cultural identities, what is tabu for us, what our totems are. In other words, he guided those present to engage in a process to acknowledge what we held sacred in the environment – a sacred connection to cosmology ( the understanding of our relationship not just being part of the vanua/ land/ environment but with being part of the very fabric of the universe itself). The exercise was to illustrate our interconnectedness with the environment and how we express that relationship.
His thesis statement, resonating with Pope Francis’ Encyclical, “Laudati Si: Care for our Common Home,”was that:
“In the beginning there existed a relationship of interconnectedness amongst all things in the whole of creation. Today we are losing our interconnectedness. Our common home, Mother Earth is becoming a pile of filth. We have to reweave the threads of our interconnectedness. Where do we look to for resources and inspirations for interconnectedness? We look to indigenous and native cosmology and the spiritual traditions.”
Pointing out that the language of domination has desacralized creation/the environment in order to exploit natural resources to a point that the world is at a state of exhaustion, Archbishop Chong argued that the sacred thread that once connected all things is lost.
The desacralizing of the environment for exploitation has led to a lack of respect and disconnection with the environment. A new discovery of the sacredness of the environment is required.
The greek word Oikos refers to the “household” and is the root word from which we get the science of the household of the earth, ecology (oikos-logos), the study of stewardship/management of the resources in the household of the earth, economics (oikos-nomos) and how we engage together harmoniously in this whole inhabited earth, ecumenism (oikoumene). Unsustainable development, environmental degradation and the impact of Climate Change are evidence that these three strands are no longer woven together.
The reweaving of this ecological mat begins with the renewal of our interconnectedness with the environment and continues with an understanding and acceptance of our interdependence. Just as the task of weaving and reweaving is a community effort, the task of reweaving the ecological mat requires the effort of different communities. Each community reflects a particular strand in the mat.
A number of important strands in this mat are provided by scientific community.
This week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has brought around 100 experts from over 30 countries to Nadi to begin drafting the Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate. The meeting is hosted by the Government of Fiji and the University of the South Pacific.
“This is the first time the IPCC has undertaken a focused report on the processes that drive change and the resulting impacts to oceans and the frozen parts of our planet,” said IPCC Vice-Chair Ko Barrett. “There is a huge volume of scientific information for us to assess, which can help policy makers to better understand the changes we are seeing and the risks to lives and livelihoods that may occur with future change.”
I was privileged to be invited to share a prayer of blessing at the official opening of this important meeting.
The making of a space for spirituality in a meeting of scientists was way of framing this gathering in the context of the Pacific. The people of Oceania are a deeply spiritual people as I have pointed out in a previous article (“Sacredness of Creation” FT 13/9/17 http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=416179).
It was also an affirmation that in the context of climate change, spirituality and science are important stands of the ecological mat that is being rewoven.
The first time I read a report from the IPCC was in 2007, the year the IPCC and Al Gore jointly received the Nobel Peace Prize “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change”.
The report was presented during the 2007 Pacific Church Leaders Meeting, organised by the World Council of Churches and Pacific Conference of Churches, as part of “evidence” in a mock court session on the reality of the human role in climate change and its impacts.
One of the authors of the 2007 IPCC report and co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize is Professor Elisabeth Holland, Director of the University of the South Pacific’s Pacific Center for Environment and Sustainable Development (PaCE-SD).
Most of my conversations with Professor Holland about climate change are not in an office or university lecture hall but standing on the shore – our feet in the sand, washed by wave after wave of the Pacific Ocean – the Moana. These “beach conferences” in which our feet connected with both the land and the sea, where the beauty and fragility of the ocean inspire the wondering mind of science and the contemplative heart of spirituality meet are a metaphor of the space in which science and spirituality can meet.
The Language of spirituality – the expression in metaphor, in image, in silence, in hymns of praise and cries for justice, in reflection and meditation, in ethical action, in confession and repentance and in justice and compassion.
A few weeks ago I was sailing on our traditional voyaging canoe the Uto Ni Yalo – to the Lau group of islands in the eastern part of Fiji. We were on our way to listen to stories of climate change and share about stewardship of the environment, the ocean and sustainable sea transport.
It was night and I was on watch on the deck of this ocean-going canoe, holding the uli or steering oar. As our traditional navigator was pointing out the stars by which we were accurately heading to our destination – he pointed out the constellation we in the Pacific know as Maui’s hook – from Polynesian cultural history – or if you’ve seen it, the movie Moana. It’s known in the western world as the constellation of Scopio.
As I gazed up at the heavens and in my mind’s eye I recalled the images from the hubble telescope and the images of earth that I watch every now and then from the live feed from the International Space Station – this psalm came to mind.
O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouths of babes and infants – you have fortress because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established;what are human beings that you are mindful of them, the children of dust that you care for them?
Yet you have made them a little lower than angels and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them mastery over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Although I am a Methodist minister, my favourite theologian is Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit Priest who was a theologian, philosopher, geologist and palaeontologist. His writings also focused on the far distant origins, evolution and ultimate purpose of the universe (cosmology). On day, while working on the excavation of the Peking Man he found himself alone in the desert: longing to celebrate the mass, he had neither bread or wine but instead declared the world as an alter and the struggles and suffering of humanity the elements. The revelation he received was that God’s living and Life giving Word is present in all matter.
Once censured by the Catholic Church, Teilhard was quoted by Pope Francis in Laudato Si, the encyclical on Care for Our Common Home.
The story of Teilhard is significant as scientists gather for the IPCC meeting here in the Pacific, given that as a deeply spiritual people, our spirituality is the lens through which we understand and respond to the world around us.
I once read that science and spirituality are tools to investigate reality from two different angles. Each discipline asks a fundamentally different question.
Science asks: how does the universe work?
Spirituality asks: why is there a universe and what is its purpose, and what is our purpose of existence as human beings?
Scientists can tell us what needs to be done to address a situation.
Spirituality provides an moral and ethical framework to mobilise and motivate the action.
In an article for Huffington Post titled “Our Future Depends on Spirituality and Science Working Together,” Deepak Chopra, an American author, public speaker, alternative medicine advocate, and a prominent figure in the New Age movement, recently wrote:
“Our future depends on the concerted effort of science and spirituality working together, because separately, neither has been up to the monumental task. Science works fine in everyday affairs without dealing with spirituality. And on the other side, spirituality can continue serving people’s spiritual needs as they go through their individual insights, crises and awakenings. However, unless the two views join forces, we won’t be using our full human capability to solve problems. Such a comprehensive human effort is precisely what global solutions require. Beyond providing a platform for addressing humanity’s problems, the joint efforts of science and spirituality promises to be the foundation for the next evolutionary leap in human potential.”
I consider the contribution of those on the IPCC to address Climate Change as a prophetic task. They are today’s prophets called to speak the truth of Climate Change to the political and economic powers.
Like the ancient prophets – many do not like to hear their message:
Climate sceptics have delayed such acceptance by decades.
Many do not want to deal with the problem – mitigation, which seems to have been side-stepped.
Living with any consequences – adaptation, which will be infinitely more serious given that many are still not really addressing the problem.
As a Christian two key motivations for me to respond to truth of the IPCC come from Jesus’s commandments to us (Mark 12:30-31 and Luke 10: 27) to love God with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength, and to love our neighbour as ourselves.
How can we express our love for God is we stand by idly while his precious and fragile creation, of which we are a very young part, is so damaged? And how can we love our neighbours, near and far, if we are not concerned about the damaging impacts of climate change on poorer people around the world – rainfall patterns, temperatures, damaging cyclones, rising sea levels and brackish water impacting on fertile land?
Climate Change is about justice, for the planet and for every creature – including we human beings who call this planet home.
I concluded with a prayer (adapted from my prayer of confession for creation used in the 2013 World Council of Churches Assembly):
Eternal God, the whole cosmos sings of your glory, from the dividing of a single cell to the vast expanse of interstellar space:
God of the oceans, turquoise lagoons within the reef and the depths of dark blue sea
God of the sky, the atmosphere and outer space
God of the land and all that is within it:
You created this world with the power of your word.
You formed humankind with your own hands, and breathed your own breath into us.
You gave us these lands as a gift – a source of our identity and sustenance.
you empowered us to be the stewards of what you have made.
Our spirit seeks you in the early dawn, O God, for your commandments are light.
Loving God, we have failed you and abused the gift you have given us.
We have offended you and defiled what you have made.
Forgive us for betraying your trust.
Forgive us for our greed and arrogance.
Forgive us for what we have done to your earth.
Forgive us for what we have done to your oceans.
Forgive us for what we have done to your creatures, on the land, in the sky and in the depths.
Hear, O God of Compassion:
The cries of the land have become a desert; land laid barren through corrupt agricultural practices, pollution, mining and deforestation.
The cries of islands are drowning in the rising seas, oceans that rise with the melting of the ice.
The cries of distress from Mother Earth – storm and drought.
The cries of children, mothers and fathers – losing loved ones, losing home, losing identity.
God of Life, heal your wounded earth.
Empower us to choose the road that leads to life.
Guide us in the paths of righteousness for your name’s sake
So that we may experience once again your Shalom, your Salaam, your Sautu, your wellbeing and peace, in the wholeness of land and in the sea.
We pray for these your prophets gathered here today – who speak your truth about what has been done to this planet – a truth many would, out of greed, out of fear out of arrogance – ignore as they continue to pillage the earth and the sea, and poison the air.
Empower them to continue to speak truth to power in love – open closed ears and closed hearts.
We pray for our Prime Minister and those you have called as your instruments, as your agents of transformation to the nations of the world – as they prepare to work for your justice and compassion to direct the path that the world will take in the face of climate change.
This we ask in the name of the one who came that we way have life in abundance, your Son, our Saviour Jesus the Christ. Amen.
James Bhagwan is an ordained minister of the Methodist Church in Fiji and serves as the Church’s Secretary for Communication and Overseas Mission. He is also the Chaplain and Committee Member for the Uto Ni Yalo, Fiji’s traditional voyaging canoe and society.
This article originally appeared in the Fiji Times on 5 October http://www.fijitimes.com/story.aspx?id=418712. It has been used with permission of the author.