This reflection is the first in a series of five reflections that we are calling "Faces of Climate Change," in honor of the Season of Creation. Each Monday until October 4th (the Feast of St. Francis and the close of the Season of Creation) we will invite a member of the Columban community to reflect on how human-caused climate change impacts the lives of the communities they serve. This week, Fr. Dan Troy unpacks the meaning of St. Columban's observation: "If you want to know the Creator, know creation."
by Fr. Dan Troy
A workshop on creation spirituality, with a strong emphasis on Laudato Si, was hosted by Irish geologist John Feehan in Shanxi province from June 5th to 10th, 2017. In preparation for the workshop a number of religious communities in China were asked to select two participants for the workshop, with the intention that they would be willing to share their experience with others following their participation in the 6 days of activity. The workshop took place at the contemplative monastery of Sr. Mary Niu and her community at Lintou village. By coincidence this is an area where Jesuit priest Teilhard de Chardin did research on fossils over a period of several years.
John Feehan explained to us how the scientific community has provided us with a refreshing way of seeing and understanding the natural world in a way that was not possible for previous generations. Whether it be the intricate detail we see in the smallest flowers with the aid of microscopes or the images of distant galaxies provided by the Hubble Space Telescope, we are looking at what God has created. An important question was posed by John at regular intervals during the workshop: "What does this tell us about God?"
The workshop combined lectures with experiential learning. The availability of microscopes allowed the participants to look at the intricate detail of the flowers that were growing within the grounds of the monastery. Quite a few times microscope work was accompanied by gasps of wonder as attention moved away from the flower parts to focus on the tiny insects that continued their daily routine within their own other-dimensioned world. An indication of how an experiential approach to learning holds the attention of participants could be seen each evening. The microscopes continued to attract participants late into the evening as they availed themselves of additional time to look at the large variety of flowers and leaves that had been gathered during the day.
John often points out that any expert in the natural sciences can contribute to our appreciation of God's creation. With this in mind we invited Li Fan, a university student from Wuhan, to give a presentation on trapdoor spiders, the area of his MA research. In a well-prepared lecture he gave a wonderful insight into the depth of mystery associated with this one insect. Following the lecture John drew our attention to the fact that this is how much is known so far about one family of insects against a backdrop of creation which has millions of species.
In the neighboring town of Yushe, there is an important fossil museum. Inside the main door are photographs of Jesuit priests Teilhard de Chardin and Emile Licent both of whom researched the geology and fossils of the area in the 1930s. Aside for the importance of the splendid fossil collection and its interesting connection with missionaries, the visit to the museum was an opportunity for the participants to realize that each area of the world has its own unique geological and ecological story.
At the end of the workshop a high level of satisfaction was expressed by the participants. John explained to the participants that they now had the resources to share their insights with other people. Their participation in the workshop, the power-point resources, the Chinese translation of Laudato Si, the availability of microscopes and hand lenses, as well as the large quantity of books available about the natural world, provides them the opportunity to share the beauty of God's creation with people in this own areas.
In the months before the workshop selected writings from John's work had been translated into Chinese by a Columban benefactor and published as a book. This is also a good resource for people who may continue this work among the Chinese people.
As the title of the encyclical says, "Praise be to you!"
"Weekly Reflection on Justice" is produced by the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach staff, volunteers, interns, Columban parishioners, Columban Missionaries, and friends of the Columbans. We hope these reflections help to guide you in your own spiritual journey working toward justice, peace, and the integrity of creation.
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