\"Jump into Love's deep river' -- Open-handed generosity and the environment

by Sharon Abercrombie

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There is cause this week for both joy and grief on the environmental front. For every two steps forward, it seems, there is one going backward.

The joy: Lego, the fourth largest toy company in the world has announced that it will no longer buy its paper packaging supplies from Asia Pulp & Paper, (APP) a logging company cited by Greenpeace International for its role in Indonesian rainforest destruction. Instead, Lego will reduce its packaging, make more use of recycled paper contract and source sustainable wood only for any virgin tree fiber it uses. Their decision follows a massive letter writing campaign spearheaded by Greenpeace. Last month more than 60,000 individuals demanded that large toy companies, including Lego and Mattel cease their business dealings with APP and adopt sustainable packaging practices.

Lego is the first to respond proactively. Mattel, manufacturer of Barbie dolls, has said publically they will drop APP but as yet has made no real changes, according to Greenpeace’s website.

The grief: About the same time that Greenpeace came forth with its heartening Lego news, Rolf Sklar, senior forest campaigner, posted yet another story, one which probably broke the hearts of animal lovers everywhere. Volunteers and staff found a young Sumatran tiger caught in a wild animal snare on one of APP concession lands in Indonesia. Starved and dehydrated, the cat had badly mangled its front paw trying to escape. Estimates are, the young male had been trapped for six, pain-wracking days.

And the nastiest irony yet: As the suffering animal struggled to escape his painful trap, bulldozers were busy at work a short distance away felling trees. The tiger died on the scene, despite Greenpeace’s rescue efforts.

There are only 400 of these magnificent animals left in Indonesia and their chances for survival are precariously fragile. The rainforest is the only home they know, a haven where they live, and raise their young. As their beautiful lush habitat crashes down around them, they face another survival threat as well. Poachers, out to make money off the sale of animal parts, employ the cruelest of devices to capture their prey – traps.

Unless more toy corporations like Lego drop their dealings with APP and trapping is banned, Sumatran tigers may soon go extinct.

What is one to make of this nonapologetic, large-scale insensitivity to the environment which still prevails, despite the courageous efforts of organizations like Greenpeace, despite the caring work of so many religious communities and denominations on behalf of the Earth, despite the increase in the numbers of good-hearted people who are trying to live simply so that others might simply live? This damnable dance of two steps forward, one step backward is so difficult to bear on a daily basis.

Welcome to Original Sin and its many faces. Theologians name it as a separation from God and of all the good things the Holy one symbolizes. So what does Original Sin look like in environmental terms???

Selective compassion works for me. Translation: “I take care of me and mine. (Humans). Meanwhile, forget you.” (Animals, birds, forests, rivers, oceans and mountains) About 10 years ago, while enroute to a Dances of Universal Peace retreat in Montana, our shuttle bus passed a large billboard on the highway. It said” “Compassion is not weakness.” I asked the locals what this message referred to: No one knew.

Right then and there, I thought, there are people who would not like this billboard, because for them, compassion IS seen as weakness. A decade later, this mind-set is still the norm. Competition rules in both the corporate world and in Washington, D.C. Economic growth at the expense of everything else on the planet remains sacred.

The late Fr Thomas Berry, a geologian (theologian for the Earth) named Original Sin “spiritual autism.”

“We are a people so locked up in themselves that no one and nothing else can get in…We are talking to ourselves. We are not talking to the river. We are not listening to the river….”

In his book “The Great Work,” he advocates for an Earth Jurisprudence. “Trees have tree rights, insects have insect rights, rivers have river rights, mountains have mountain rights. So too, with the entire range of beings throughout the universe. All rights are limited and relative. So too with humans. We have human rights. We have rights to the nourishment and shelter we need. We have rights to habitat. We have no rights to deprive other species of their proper habitat. We have no rights to interfere with their migration routes. We have no rights to disturb the basic functioning of the biosystems of the planet. We cannot own the Earth or any part of the Earth in any absolute manner. “

William Becker, a professor emeritus at Bucknell University, wrote an equally amazing essay on “Ecological Sin” in the July, 1992 edition of Theology Today. “The doctrine of original sin helps us see that we are socializing ourselves to sin ecologically. Our present anti-ecological behavior is thoroughly rooted in a social context actively supported and promoted by a powerful process of socialization and education. ...We are teaching ourselves, even during the very process of carrying out our small bin of recyclables, that our overarching duty and purpose as citizens is to buy, to consume, to waste, and to promote growth and prosperity.

This explains why newborn babies are described as affected by original sin, not because of their deeds but on the basis of the social-educational context in which and by which they are being formed. Though they did not choose to be, they are already wrapped in disposable diapers!”

Perhaps a curative for this selfishness of Original Sin, is to call upon a comforting metaphor -- namely, the open hand of generosity.

In 2005 while I was researching Earth saints for a presentation at a Catholic environmental conference in Louisville, Ky., St. Kevin of Glendalough, “the St. Francis of Ireland,” appeared on the Internet.

It was love at first read. Born in 498 A.D., Kevin was a holy hermit who eventually had to build a monastery to accommodate all the people who wanted to join him. He was popular with the critters, too. One famous legend has Kevin praying inside his tiny narrow hermitage. It was so small that when he extended his arms sideways in prayer, one of them stuck out the window. A mother blackbird decided that Kevin’s open hand would make the perfect nest.

She proceeded to lay her eggs there. The very surprised monk accommodated the little blackbird until the eggs hatched and her babies flew away. Seamus Heaney, Irish poet and Nobel laureate, composed a poem about the event.

“Kevin felt the warm eggs, the small breast, the tucked
Neat head and claws, and, finding himself linked
Into the network of eternal life,
Is moved to pity: “

Heaney suggests that the reader imagine being Kevin.

“Which is he? Self-forgetful or in agony all the time? .. are his fingers sleeping? Does he still feel his knees? Or has the shut-eyed blank of underearth crept up through him? Is there distance in his head? Alone and mirrored clear in Love’s deep river, ‘to labour and not to seek reward,’ he prays.”

Kevin’s open-handed generosity cries out to be hatched one more time into the network of eternal life, on an Earth whose inhabitants ranging from humans at all stages of life, to butterflies. bees, rainforests and tigers are desperately hurting. If only we as a human species could “jump into Love’s deep river, to labour and not to seek reward for doing the right thing. “

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