What is Ecological Conversion? *
It is with individuals, of course, that conversion begins, and if an individual, such as Thomas Merton, records his or her experiences in a journal, we can trace the transformations as they unfold. When Merton first came upon a review of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962, he was shocked to learn what is happening to birds as a result of the indiscriminate use of poisons. When he later read the book for himself, his eyes were opened to his own complicity in this destructive practice, causing him to renounce totally his own follies with DDT. What was transformed was, first, his own awareness of what he was involved in; and, as his awareness and understanding grew, his ways of relating to his natural surroundings also underwent a transformation.
Though Merton’s moment of conversion probably began in the first sudden shock of reading about Carson’s book, the groundwork had been laid long before, in early childhood, through the influence of his parents (both painters), who gave him a love for nature and taught him to see and care for the natural world around him. This was a key first step involving empathy with the natural world in all its beauty and fragility, a sine qua non for what would follow.
However, Merton’s particular transformation in the early 1960s amounted to an environmental rather than ecological conversion: it was focused on the natural environment where he lived as a monk and hermit in the Kentucky woods. A further step was required in order to develop an ecological vision. Merton needed to move from empathy with the natural world to understanding it as an interlocking set of systems sustaining all life on the planet. His environmental conversion was only a first unfolding in the ‘evolution of an ecological consciousness’. (* Taken from https://laudatosimovement.org/2021/06/24/what-is-an-ecological-conversion-en-news/ )
Find some extended reflection time to read Chapter Three, Human Roots of the Ecological Crisis and Chapter Four, Integral Ecology in Laudato Si’. What ecological conversions does Pope Francis demand of the whole world in this great Encyclical? How might these impact your own daily life?
As sisters, associates, and colleagues, we are familiar with how YAS calls us to the Gospel vision of a “life-long process of conversion of heart” (YAS C36-39; YAS GD 51). Take some quiet time and reread these passages prayerfully to consider how each passage when read through an ecological lens seems to invite one’s heart to deep ecological conversion.
Following your pondering, reflection and reading times, alone or with others:
- Discuss what ecological conversion means to you and then share a description or story of any personal ecological conversion you have experienced;
- Decide which three particular actions you will take individually or with others to respond to what Chapters Three and Four in Laudato Si’ ask of us;
- Create a prayer Mandela for yourself to serve as a reminder of our ecological relationships in Earth, our home, as well as beyond in the whole magnificent universe;
- As you pray the Our Father, say the word “kindom” instead of “kingdom” to echo more closely the ecological implications of this sacred prayer;
Closing Prayer from Laudato Si’
All-powerful God, you are present
in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness
all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and
forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and
not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.
Prepared by Mary Heather MacKinnon, SSND, Atlantic Midwest Province
for the SSND International Shalom Network.
Graphic taken from the Directional Statement, 24th General Chapter. Design: Congregational Communications Office.