For many, Earth Day conjures up images of planting trees, recycling your soda can at lunch, and maybe thinking about carpooling. While all those things are good, they can be sterile of any religious or spiritual meaning. We think of these things because we've been taught since elementary school that these are the things we should do to contribute to a cleaner environment. We can all make a difference when we work together.
But how does God connect to all of this? How does my religious belief impact what I do with my water, front yard, what I eat, or how I shop? These are some of the questions that began from my personal reflection of Laudato si', On Care for Our Common Home.
It's been almost a year since Pope Francis first encyclical, Laudato si', has been published. In this time, there's been much discussion about just how faith and our stewardship of the environment, our common home, relate to one another. Pope Francis underscores many important points of our privilege and responsibility to care for one another and the environment. He brings the concerns and issues about our environment to a dialogue with our religious belief and practice.
It's all too tempting and easy to compartmentalize what we believe and how we pray to certain moments of the week or day. Should I expect a religious experience from recycling my cardboard?
I think in many ways we have to stretch our notion of prayer. Prayer has to be understood and practiced as a constant movement and intention. As St. Paul writes in 1 Thessalonians, "pray unceasingly." I believe Henri Nouwen's insight on the matter is quite relevant:
To pray, I think, does not mean to think about God in contrast to thinking about other things, or to spend time with God instead of spending time with other people. Rather, it means to think and live in the presence of God. As soon as we begin to divide our thoughts about God and thoughts about people and events, we remove God from our daily life and put him into a pious little niche where we can think pious thoughts and experience pious feelings... Although it is important and even indispensable for the spiritual life to set apart time for God and God alone, prayer can only become unceasing prayer when all our thoughts - beautiful or ugly, high or low, proud or shameful, sorrowful or joyful -- can be thought in the presence of God... Thus, converting our unceasing thinking into unceasing prayer moves us from a self-centered monologue to a God-centered dialogue."
(Clowning in Rome, pp 70-71)
This movement in prayer is a simple yet profound way to bring every aspect of our life into a "God-centered dialogue." It makes even the most mundane tasks of recycling, being a parent, or driving home a wonderful opportunity to encounter God.
May this Earth Day be a time to look with appreciation upon all of creation and reflect on our responsibility to care for it. This Earth Day, make sure to join whatever efforts you deem fit to making the Earth a little better with a prayer. It may be a prayer for your personal needs, a prayer of hope for a better world for your children, or a prayer of solidarity and petition for all those around the world that share our common home. Whichever one it is, may the Lord encounter you there.