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An Integral Ecological Formation as a Pathway for Mission Today

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Andrew G. Recepcion

1.0   Introduction: Rediscovering our Ecological Roots

 

Pope Francis’ Laudato Sii[1] has created a greater awareness and a more acute sense of responsibility towards creation, and in a particular way towards the formation of an ecological conscience. More than the usual standard of Christian ethics which seems to focus principally on sexual morality and bioethics, Laudato Sii has indicated that the formation of conscience also entails ecological formation. The challenge that the entire earth faces vis-a-vis human greed and lifestyle enjoins us to take seriously ecological formation that impacts on faith by going beyond the private sphere of religion and by taking seriously the implications of faith to a Christian lifestyle that comes from a formed ecological conscience.

The general principles of Laudato Sii[2] need to be understood from different contexts thus facilitate a more incarnated approach which is suitable to the worldview and cultural diversity of particular cultures specifically in Asia. Asia is marked by contrasts and multiple settings of life experienced through diverse cultures, religions and socio-economic and political realities. It is important to point out that there is no universal default of integral ecological formation that applies to all peoples. There is a need to rediscover that basic “ecological DNA” of peoples in Asia in their cultural diversity. Much as biologically, each creature has a unique DNA which can be considered as the original signature of the creator, we can also say analogously that each culture in Asia has a unique ecological DNA as exemplified by the uniqueness of cultures and world-views.

This presentation is an attempt to map the ecological perspective of Asia as represented by a Filipino worldview and culture. Thus, it does not claim comprehensiveness for it simply wants to illustrate a possible framework for an integral ecological formation based on an indigenous or native genius as a pathway for mission.

Towards the end of the presentation, some proposals for a contextualized ecological integral formation will be presented which can be a tentative perspective for a formative itinerary in various missiological settings.

The burden of the question on what constitutes an integral ecological formation focuses on who we are so that we can explain what we do. In other words, the discussion explores identity more than activity, diversity more than uniformity, humanity more than plans and programs, and spirituality more than policy.

2.0   Filipino Worldview: Anatomy of An Experience

 

             Laudato Sii starts with the song of creation of Saint Francis of Assisi. In the spirituality of creation among Filipinos, nature is celebrated through songs, music and dances. One of the songs of creation that is popular among Filipinos captures the heart of an indigenous spirituality of nature:

MAGKAUGNAY AND LAHAT (Everything is Interconnected)[3]

Lupa, laot, langit ay magkaugnay (Earth, sea, sky are interconnected)

Hayop, halaman, tao ay magkaugnay (Animals, plants, humans are interconnected)

Ang lahat ng bagay ay magkaugnay (Everything is interconnected)

Magkaugnay ang lahat (All of creation is interconnected)

Tayo ay nakasakay sa mundong naglalakbay (We are passengers on journeying earth)

Sa gitna ng kalawakan (along the heavens)

Umiikot sa bituin na nagbibigay-buhay (Orbiting around the stars that give life)

Sa halaman, sa hayop at sa atin (to plants, animals and to us)

Iisang pinagmulan (We come from one origin)

Iisang hantungan ng ating lahi (There is only one destination for our race)

Kamag-anak at katribo ang lahat ng narito (Family, tribe and all of us)

Sa lupa, sa laot at sa langit (on the earth, seas and in the heavens)

The song speaks of the interconnectedness of the earth. There is an awareness that nothing exists for itself; nothing can exist in isolation for every creature is in one way or another connected to the other in the circle of love and the rhythm of life. In fact, the daily routine of creation paints in a myriad way that everything is interconnected in the circle of love. The sun does not shine for itself but faithfully moves from east to west day in and day out to give life to all forms of life. The plants, flowers and trees exist for the other as food, as shade, as medicine and as many other ways that give life to others. The insects, bacteria, sea creatures and all kinds of animals live in symbiotic relationship with each other and with other forms of life. The entire ecosystem exists in relationship with other forms of flora and fauna in order to safeguard and to enhance the life-structure and survival of all existing species of life. And the human being as microcosm is true to its humanity when there is the essential relationship of harmony with the entire macrocosm because the whole creation is present in humanity.

Aside from songs, myths are common to all Asian cultures. The myths of creation in the Philippines reinforce the basic awareness of interconnectedness and harmony of all creation that can also come from conflict, struggle and death. One of the popular myths of creation narrates:

             Long ago, it is said, there was no earth, but only the Skyworld and the Underworld.

 

             The people of the Underworld and the people of the Skyworld were enemies. The

             people of the Underworld could shoot their arrows to the Skyworld, and the people

             of the Skyworld would throw their spears at the people of the Underworld.

 

             One day a man of the Underworld hit the sun with his arrow. The sun decided to

             make the earth so that the people of the Underworld could not shoot into the

             Skyworld.

 

             For a long time there were no people here on earth. The people of the Underworld

             and the people of the Skyworld would come here to the earth to hunt. One day the

             people of the Skyworld were following a deer. The deer passed by the place of the

             people of the Underworld who had just arrived from the cave, and they killed the

             deer. The people of the Skyworld became angry and fought the people of the Underworld.

             Some were killed by the enemies.

 

             There was one man from the Skyworld and one woman from the Underworld who were

             wounded, and then their companions left them because they thought they were dead.

             When they had recovered, they married. They had many children and they are our

             ancestors.

The creation and peopling of the earth as narrated in this myth highlight in a significant way that for us Filipinos, we interpret our world from a fundamental worldview of a process that involves a continuous evolution of life described in the language of “gratitude, connection, and awe.”[4]

There is a need to see the environment not as an “issue” to deal with but as a “context”[5] that allows a rediscovery of the whole creation as a community marked by similarities and differences in the web of harmony.

By taking the environment as a context, we can understand that ecological formation can only happen when we see ecology not conceptually but contextually. Ecological context informed by a specific worldview can capture the following values of ecological formation: (1) “Sense of Planetarity” in which we see the earth community as extended family”; (2) “cosmic awe” in which we marvel at all creation with its “small but included in the ten thousand things”; (3) “delight in multiplicity” in which we have an “exposure to the sheer variety of forms of life on earth.”[6] The third value of delight in multiplicity can either come from “being unaccepted or oppressed” because of differences or from an “intuitive sense that things can be together without being identical.”[7]

Context becomes genuinely meaningful from a specific worldview. The Filipino ecological worldview is transpersonal that conceives the world in inter-relationships of worlds and subjects. The transpersonal view has the following characteristics: “(1) There is a reality or realities other than matter, such as “spirit” or “spirits”: (2) all reality is somehow or the other all present, at least in God’s mind. Past and future are human ways of representing reality little by little; (3) the world is ultimately run by the spirit (God, mind, providence, spirits, and force); (4) the human mind is not limited by the brain and can even exist outside of it; (5) knowledge can come in an extrasensory way, mind in direct contact with the objective reality (e.g. with collective unconscious); (6) the human person is part of a bigger collectivity and the ego can at times lower its barriers to fuse with the bigger reality.”[8]

Coming from a Filipino context presented briefly above, some possible ways of understanding an integral ecological formation will be proposed. But before proceeding to some proposals, it is necessary to look at the formation process more closely.

 

3.0 Rethinking the Object and Subject Categories of the Formation Process

When one thinks about formation in general, the process involves helping a formand to reach a state where one has met the expectations of formation objectives. In other words, the object of formation is to make a person live up to a desired state, chosen and prepared by experts, by persons who have completed the same process successfully. In ecological formation, however, the object and subject categories often seen in dualistic worldview need to be understood differently by taking into account experience as a matrix for growth in consciousness and maturity. Rethinking object and subject categories means looking at the state of being in relationship and not simply the process of becoming. Achieving an integral ecological formation focuses on the quality of relationship in a harmony of differences.

The Filipino experience seen from a transpersonal worldview goes beyond the distinction between the object and subject categories. The way of formation does not start with the individual but with the community of creation in the network of inter-relationships. Without in anyway reducing the uniqueness or difference of the individual to an anonymous reality, by emphasizing the primordial role of the community in relationship, the individual is formed not in isolation but in harmony with the rest of creation while remaining distinct and unique. Furthermore, formation is not conceived outside the womb of mother earth but nourished and sustained by it. Put simply, the process of formation facilitates the birthing of the individual who is aware that he or she has the whole universe within and the whole universe expresses itself and finds expression in his or her uniqueness.

It is necessary to indicate that the process of formation underscores the importance of being in the other and living for the other. The other can either assume the face of a fellow human, or any member of the earth community. In other words, formation is not simply a goal to achieve after a determined process but it is a celebration of a common origin and destiny. Formation affirms not only the innate goodness of every creature but also the fundamental relationship that supports all of creation.

Let us now explore briefly and tentatively some elements of an integral ecological formation.

 

4.0   Paradigm Shift in Integral Ecological Formation as a Pathway for Mission

 

Contemporary situations described as the new areophagus of mission today[9], indicate that ecology is one of the pathways for mission. Mission today has to go beyond geography and enter into dialogue with issues that confront humanity. Thus, we can indicate that ecology is a mission frontier that challenges us to find ways in order to allow the Gospel to penetrate and renew this situation from within. Even before the publication of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Sii, mission studies have been doing research on eco-justice and on what is called as “green evangelization” thus emphasizing the important connection between mission and environment.

Ecological formation from a missiological point of view involves the following shifts in realizing a holistic formative itinerary. It must be noted that these elements are not separate in reality but they form a continuous process of being in relation, of being in and with the other that is different and uniquely beautiful.

  • Awareness: Change of Mindset

 There is a need to begin with the mindset. Formation has to change consciousness because ecological crisis does not start from external factors but from internal disposition and motivation.   In other words, genuine change comes from a change of the dominant mindset that sees humanity as the center of creation to a Gospel-based mindset that sees humanity at the service of creation. One has to go back to the truth that the real center of creation is not humanity but the boundless love of the creator who supports and sustains everything. Thus, formation has to shift from dominion to connection, from autonomy to gratitude, from self-love to awe at creation’s beauty.

Dominion to Connection

The shift from dominion to connection entails that the formation process begins with an awareness of the earth’s community by highlighting that nothing exists apart from the other. The whole process of formation instills a fundamental appreciation of the other which is different and focuses on how differences can enrich the other. Dominion comes from greed. Connection comes from appreciation of one’s unique beauty and acceptance of fundamental differences.

Mission is extensio Dei, that is, divine self-reaching out that seeks connection; a divine self-reaching out that finds every creature loved, lovable and capable of loving. More than in the past, ecology as a pathway for mission today has to initiate ecological formation that gives priority to being able to enter into a meaningful and life-nourishing relationship with all the members of the earth community.

Autonomy to Gratitude

The shift from autonomy to gratitude sees the whole formation process as a constant experience of receiving life and being ready to give life. Though autonomy can be necessary for one’s identity, it is equally necessary, however, to point out that a beautiful life is always nurtured and nurturing, cared for and caring. Thus, gratitude is the state of being ready to receive and to give in an unending cycle of reciprocity that engenders genuine growth and realization of potentials. Autonomy leads to isolation and death. Gratitude opens up creativity, reciprocity and full maturity.

Mission is donum Dei, that is, God’s gift in Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Love of God who allows us to participate in the life of God gratuitously so that grateful for His love we can love the whole creation selflessly and responsibly thus bringing out the best of what the Creator has ordained the creature to become.

Self-love to Awe

The shift from self-love to awe highlights that the formation process entails a Copernican revolution where the center of one’s universe is the other. Without denying the fundamental love for self which is necessary for survival, the movement from self-love to awe that marvels at the beauty of the other becomes an experience of finding the creator in every creature. Thus, the other need not be an enemy, a competitor, and an opponent. On the contrary, the other is a co-sojourner, a precious companion, an indispensable way to happiness in the journey of life.

Mission is pupilla Dei, that is, the pupil of God’s loving eyes that see creatures as they are in God’s plan. Thus, mission has to bring out God’s plan in all creation by reminding humanity to see the rest of creation not as materials for exploitation and consumption but as indispensable partners in the fulfillment of “a new heaven and a new earth.”   Seeing creation from God’s point of view and not from one’s point of view opens up onto a new level of harmonious relationship with the entire cosmos.After indicating fundamental shifts in mindset, let us look into a possible lifestyle change, that is, a change of values that affects life choices. 

 

 

  • Lifestyle: Change of ValuesMission  

 spirituality today has to be lived as an ecological way of life that gives witness to the Trinitarian imprint in all of creation. Mission is a Trinitarian eco-lifestyle. The challenge of Laudato Sii is to inculcate values that come from an eco-lifestyle. A tentative illustration below with practical recommendations can reflect a new ecological mindset operative in an eco-lifestyle.

 

  1.  
Value Application
Simplify life – Use only what we need Use less heat and electricity; avoid use of plastic and paper; reduce water consumption; segregate garbage; cook what can be consumed; turn off unnecessary lights; save on gas or diesel by walking; plant trees
Change the way we consume products Choose to consume products that are organic, that is, without environmental footprints; eat less of multinational food products and prefer locally grown produce especially coming from marginalized sectors of society; boycott products from GMOs; foster a greater sense of social responsibility
Take time to recover a serene harmony with creation Prefer walking in the park instead of watching a movie; bring family for a picnic outdoors, in parks; spend time for prayer and meditation in open spaces surrounded by nature; visit nature’s wonders instead of enclosed and air-conditioned shopping malls
Practice gratitude for the gift of God’s creation Help young generation to be grateful for the gift of creation by not wasting any food; educate by showing love for natural things and not processed foods; inculcate gratitude by helping re-plant trees, by recycling, and by preserving enviroment

Mission encompasses ecological formation. A missiological orientation is necessary for an integral ecological formation.

 

5.0   Conclusion

 

Allow me to conclude this presentation with a personal note from a life-changing experience that happened to me on November 13, 2013. I found myself in the middle of the super typhoon Hayan while concluding a retreat for seminarians in Leyte, Philippines. It was an experience between life and death, an experience of helplessness before the powerful force of nature. I survived the super typhoon. But I came out with a greater resolve that we need to start forming the ecological conscience of our new generation. When everything around me was destruction and death, with dead human bodies lined up along the streets side by side with dead animals and uprooted trees, I could only hope that the future generation could still enjoy the beauty and grandeur of creation. I understood more than before, that we are one earth community, interconnected like a family, diverse yet in harmony.

[1] Pope Francis’ Encylical on Integral Ecology published on May 24, 2015.

[2] Pope Francis, Laudato Sii, see whole of Chapter four.

[3] Song and Lyrics by Joey Ayala, a Filipino artist. Translation is supplied by the author.

[4] Process Perspectives, “The Spiritual Side of Sustainability,” (Winter 2015) 37/1: 8.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 9.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Andrew Recepcion, “The Filipino Transpersonal Worldview”, Asian Christian Review (Winter 2007) 1/3: 68.

[9] Cf. Redemptoris Missio, no. 33-37.