A wake-up call to preserve our common home

POST BY AWentworth

Celia Deane-Drummond of the Laudato Si’ Research Institute alerts us to the wake-up call that we are hearing to preserve and celebrate every part of our common home.

This year, we were supposed to be celebrating five years since the release of Laudato si’, the papal encyclical on care for our common home. However, instead of celebrating, we have watched with horror as the Covid-19 pandemic has swept the globe. It is a natural, moral and political phenomenon, but also has theological meaning.

Much of the public ethical discussion about Covid-19 is about issues of justice. Who gets access to healthcare and equipment has increasingly become a lottery. The most vulnerable suffer directly from this disease, but the indirect national and global economic and social impacts cut deep. Even the so-called ‘good news’ that some have tried to find within the crisis, such as the drastic reduction in flying and other carbon emissions, comes with its drawbacks: vulnerable communities, such as those of the Pacific Islands, are losing their economic foothold. These indirect impacts exacerbate the direct and intense suffering of vulnerable impoverished indigenous communities in countries such as Brazil that are left unprotected by their own governments.

The more fundamental issue to consider is our common, shared humanity. Evolutionary anthropology highlights our highly distinctive ‘hyper’ sociality. Cutting out the opportunity for that sociality, through social distancing or isolation, has been deeply disturbing for many people. We are now in a strange land, in spite of familiarity, where we cannot even properly weep and mourn with others.

So, can we still find a voice to sing praises in the wake of such suffering? Well, a counter to the anxiety that is evident in so many aspects of this crisis – its political management, its effect on those in lockdown, even at its source if that proves to be an illicit market that deals in rare species, or parts of species, thought to be able to cure human anxieties – is gratitude. In Rome, nuns sing the Divine Office from their apartments. In Madrid, every evening people gather on balconies to applaud health workers. In the UK, thousands clap each Thursday evening for the NHS and social care workers.

Covid-19 has a relatively low death rate compared with many other parasitic relationships, so perhaps we need to be grateful for that. We use anthropomorphic language of ‘battle’ in our relationship with the virus as it helps us to deal with its consequences, but there is nothing explicitly evil about Covid-19. It is doing what it is made to do: multiply in its hosts, keeping many alive to pass it on to new hosts. It does not ‘intend’ to kill. Its impact is a consequence of our daily decisions and relationships, many of which, rather like our daily actions which contribute to climate change, may seem to us to be innocuous but have devastating consequences for other innocent parties. We now are learning the depth and delicate balance of these relationships, of which indigenous communities living within fragile ecologies have long been aware.

The next time a cloud of anxiety rises up within us, let us reflect that the flowers, birds, trees and other living creatures around us even in an urban environment are not in lockdown. Stop to listen to the birdsong. Their praises cannot be stamped out, in spite of our mortality and disease. Let’s also consider those millions of microorganisms living within us that help us stay healthy and live long lives, and those other living species who share our common home. Let us celebrate and protect the life and health that they and we have.

We will best honour those who have suffered and died by learning to take our interconnectedness with God, each other, and other creatures much more seriously. Even the deepest and darkest suffering is not beyond the reach of God’s mercy and grace, thus providing an occasion for renewal. The hope of Easter cannot be suppressed.