TOWARDS AN ECOLOGICAL AWAKENING…
Eloy Roy, pmé
Ecology is a science, an art, a way of being that has to do with our relationship with Nature in general, and more particularly with our environment. Nature is inside us, we breathe it, it is in our very being.
Just as a fish cannot survive outside of water and starts experiencing very serious problems in such a critical situation, in the same way, we humans cannot live very long without taking our environment very seriously…
If we live like strangers within our environment, nothing seems to work anymore. We are disconnected, not only from Nature, but also from ourselves.
Let us deepen our sense of belonging to the environment; let us recognize what binds us to Nature; let us value it, let us become more aware of it; let us we renew our links with Nature, and we will see that the environmental crisis we are currently experiencing on the planet is not, first and foremost, a series of disasters each one just as scary as the next, but rather an act of great opportunity. This is an opportunity for us and for all humanity to release the fish in us that has not yet died.
1. At home
In my case, as it is with most other people, I suppose, everything began at home. My mother loved plants and she spent her life bringing new life to old things. My father, for his part, did not know to do anything other than work, and he would not let a single piece of hay go to waste.
2. Exploring the world around my home
While still a child, I began to explore the universe around the house. I tiptoed into the dark woods at the edge of the farm. I went up and down the little brook that ran through the farm, discovering something new each time. I ventured onto our neighbours’ properties as though they were foreign lands; I climbed upon two gigantic rocks that towered over a hill, giving myself chills. Every season, I would make my way through the undergrowth to the falls of the little Plante River nearby – in the summer, I bathed in its bubbling pool and dream about the gold nuggets that had once been discovered in this mysterious place. I would also go fishing there sometimes, but without much enthusiasm nor success. I grew up surrounded by and close to animals: the dog, cats, cows, horses, sheep, pigs and chickens. Not to mention birds, rabbits, and various insects such as flies and mosquitoes which I did not like. I was also close to other creatures that I never saw except in the vast world of my imagination: beavers, squirrels, foxes, bears, seals and whales. At night, especially in August, I would stare in awe at the billions of stars that dotted the black canvas of the sky. I knew nothing about stars, except that some of them formed the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper, and that one of them was the North Star.
Moving on, there were other activities to keep me busy, such as gardening, harvesting berries, apple-picking, and making preserves (especially jams). The hay also needed to be harvested and threshed, rocks gathered, and all the laundry needed to be done, which task I completely detested, along with the spreading of manure…
The time soon came for me to go to college. Amid the maze of subjects of Latin, Greek, history, literature and religion, I was introduced to chemistry and physics. These two latter subjects left me cold. It wasn’t until much later that I discovered, on my own (as none of my teachers taught me these things):
- That the sciences were in fact the door through which I could enter and explore this secret world… of Nature!
- That Nature was essentially the SOURCE of the most amazing scientific discoveries;
- That the greatest milestones in medical and industrial research were inspired by Nature;
- That without Nature, there would have been no progress!
It is also only recently that I began to realize that Nature, even though existing before human beings, is not an old thing, but that it is the most modern thing. She does not only represent the past, but she is also the present, and it is in her that the future already exists.
(I believe the younger generation may already see the world in this light; and this may be the reason why our two generations do not get on very well.)
For a few summers, I worked at summer camps, and did some scouting. These experiences allowed me to freely enjoy the beauty of nature and I happily sang her praises on all our hikes and evenings around the campfire. Like many others, I devoured the entire collection of scouting novels (Tracking signs), as well as medieval “cloak-and-dagger” novels, with a particular interest in those where the hero is “released into the wild”, like Robin Hood, Robinson Crusoe, Michael Strogoff…
I discovered the ocean on my escapes to the beaches of Old Orchard in Maine, USA, and on my hitchhiking adventures out to the Gaspé and the Maritime provinces, and on a hiking trip to the Magdalen Islands with Clan Jacques Buteux of Trois-Rivières.
Now I will take you back to my days as a seminarian at Pont-Viau …
4. Teilhard de Chardin
Although, during my years of formation for the priesthood, Teilhard was banned by the highest authorities of the Church, this good Jesuit scholar succeeded through the branches, cutting a path to my conscience, opening me up a little to a vision of reality in which:
- Nature and Spirituality were not mutually exclusive;
- Matter and Spirit, Plural and Singular, Human and Divine, Body and Soul, White and Black, Pure and Impure, Us and Them, the Earth and the Cosmos … stopped ignoring or stopped waging war against each other;
- All of these things came together beautifully and harmoniously in the one great “Cosmic Christ”, the Alpha and the Omega of all history and of the universe;
- Everything was alive, and growing, and undergoing the great mystery of evolution; everything was journey from Nothingness into Being, a prolonged Passover from the Crucifixion to the Resurrection.
In Teilhard’s writings I finally arrived at an understanding of many things, especially of religion, this marvelous religion that, on the one hand never ceases to amaze me, but on the other is constantly calling me to revise how I perceive my life, and to consider the mission that lies ahead of me.
Leaving Teilhard, I now take you to my experiences in Honduras, in Argentina, and in China.
5. In Honduras
Upon my arrival in Honduras, my first culture shock was the realization that not all the trees were palm trees, but that there were also pine trees, like those found in Quebec… It did not take me long to also discover:
- That being in a tropical climate is not always a good thing with risks of amoebae or contracting malaria through mosquito bites.
- That the beautiful seduction mountains shown on postcards can pose very formidable challenges. At the same time, I discovered that these same mountains were a refuge for hundreds of thousands of peasants who were chased from the lower coastal lands. During the course of history, these people fled to the mountains, chased at gunpoint from the more accessible and fertile lands below, by unscrupulous adventurers (almost always from or connected to the army) who used them to pasture their cattle, or for financial speculation.
I also discovered mules that had nothing in common with those donkeys we often like to make fun of; to the contrary, they are wonders of the natural world, completely unbeatable in this harsh environment because of their extremely sure footing on the edges of mountains and precipices. They are worthy of admiration also because of their courage and endurance. Wondrous creatures of God which the author of the Book of Job could easily place in the company of the crocodile and hippopotamus, which he describes with magnanimous praise in the last few pages of his book…
I came to know fabulous trees: the matapalo (‘strangler fig tree’), the guanacaste (‘elephant ear tree’), the caoba (‘mahogany’), the ceiba (‘silk cotton tree’)… and a tree as hard as iron such that it is impossible to hammer a nail into it. The columns of most of the churches in the country are made from these trees.
I encountered the splendid white zebus, majestic and serene oxen who pull the carts; playful little kids climbing in the trees … and plenty of garrobos (iguanas), of course …
In Cedeño, on the Pacific Coast, I encountered my first volcano. I have always been attracted to volcanoes. This particular one, Cosigüina, does not have a cone. From a distance, you cannot see it. All that is left of it is an immense crater two kilometers in diameter, with a lake at the bottom. This volcano, however, used to be dangerously active. When it erupted on January 22, 1835, the mountain was completely shattered, with the resulting flying rocks forming the little islands we see all along the coast today. The subsequent cloud of ashes blocked out the sun within a radius of 150 kilometers, and even travelled as far as Mexico City and Caracas, Venezuela, more than 1400 kilometers away.
All of Central America, with the exception of Honduras, is a series of volcanoes. The volcanoes in the Chinandega region of Nicaragua are of an unparalleled beauty. I revere my friends, the volcanoes of El Salvador – San Miguel, Izalco (black, rigid, powerful and scary), and the great Santa Ana. An “abrazo” (hug) to the commanding Tajumulco and the volcanoes of Atitlán in Guatemala; to the majestic twin peaks of Old Guatemala City, christened Fire and Water, true natural wonders enthroned amid a tropical paradise.
Around 1966 in Costa Rica, I visited the “patriarch” of the capital, Renaldo Pol, QEPD. In between volcanic eruptions of Irazú (which occurred every 45 minutes with a punctuality characteristic of the British...., I would venture out, to the great dismay of dear Pol, all the way to the edge of the burning crater of Irazú. The indelible memory is forever etched in my brain. For a brief moment, I had a glimpse of the belly of the Earth, and a few flashes of the pieces of the sun she carried within her. I do not believe that Moses, in the presence of the Burning Bush, was more enthralled in awe than I before the incandescent Irazú. …
Regarding Honduras, I would be remiss if I did not mention the extraordinary adventures of my missionary companions, Jean-Louis Nadeau and Normand Landreville, in the virgin territory of Patuca. I invite you to read about them:
In French: http://todoelmundovaalcielofrancais.blogspot.com/2015/10/patuca.html
In Spanish: http://todoelmundovaalcielo.blogspot.com/2015/11/patuca.html
Here are additional notes of interest about Honduras:
- Since the 1970s in Honduras, the country has been engaged in a heroic struggle to preserve the precious forest of La Mosquitia. Many lives have been lost.
- Our brother Réal Corriveau, Bishop of Choluteca, penned an important pastoral letter about protecting the environment.
- Alejandro Lopez and his San José Obrero Association spearheaded many legitimate large-scale initiatives to promote ecological awareness in the community.
- Along my missionary journey, I heard incredible stories from various sources about Indigenous and other environmental activists who were murdered in Brazil because of their outspoken commitment to defending the rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Amazon Rainforest.
- First in Honduras, then in Argentina and China, I experienced the virtues of natural medicine and enjoyed some of its benefits…
Returning to Canada in 1972, by land and not by air, I travelled across Mexico and the United States, delighting in other natural wonders, notably in the American West – in California, Arizona, Utah… Vast canyons (The Bowels of the Earth), amazing parks like Yellowstone Park in Wyoming, with its forest of geysers and gigantic crater... All these natural wonders have shaped our planet, building on the millions of years of life that we have inherited, first stirring and then re-mixing the primordial clay, reshaping things, undoing what was no longer viable, and creating new shapes and patterns.
6. In Argentine
Starting in Chaco, I got to know some snippets of the fascinating culture of the gauchos: a fantastic world of metis people – half Amerindian, half white – in which nature and civilization, freedom and slavery, confront each other. Within this duality, all the mystery of being Argentinian is found, both friendly and aloof at the same time. It is a duality that would be further accentuated by the arrival of immigrants from Eastern Europe, and particularly by the large waves of Italian immigrants that followed.
However, what is typically gaucho – such as the poncho, asado, mate, malambo, facón, leather, cows, horses, delectable poetry and divine wisdom, as well as their traditional music that is both lively and serious – is what makes Argentina remain viscerally connected to nature and the environment. That is why we all naturally fall in love with her, and no matter where we go within her borders, we always feel at home.
Leaving Chaco, I travel to Tilcara, among the Kolla people, an Indigenous ethnic group
of Andean culture, who profess an authentic love and worship of Mother Nature – la Pachamama. Contrary to the inveterate and expected missionary task of quashing such practice as pagan worship, I became instead complicit in strengthening its profound essence and worth. In the midst of their ancient annual ritual of giving back food to the Earth, to thank her for all she provides to them, I celebrated the Eucharist several times. My intention was to make them aware that the Bread and Wine we use to celebrate a God who, by becoming flesh and thus dwells in all of humanity, is also a God who is lovingly “married” to the Earth itself (a term used by the prophet Isaiah), for we are born of the Earth and of the Breath of God, as are the Bread and the Wine, and all the food that nourishes us and keeps us alive. There would be no man nor woman if there were no Earth. Without the Earth, there would be no life, no Jesus Christ, no Good News, no Kingdom of God among us!
I started from this bond that united the Kolla people to Mother Earth, in order to lead them to the understanding that Mother Earth was not the “dark deity” who would destroy their children, sparing them only if they made offerings to her through traditional rituals (with cigarettes, shisha, alcohol, corn, coca leaves, etc.). I tried to introduce into their psyche, the kind of religion that God cherished, according to the teachings of the Bible. I insisted on the fact that, above all, the Earth is a gift from God, a gift to all of humanity, not just to a select few, and that nothing would please God more than if we shared this wondrous gift with each other, in justice, peace and love. If the Earth is really a Mother, then for her there would be no greater gift than to see her children living in fraternity and solidarity with each other.
My adopted son Eduardo Escobar (father of Eloy Jr., Ezequiel and Itatí) is a fantastic animator in the larger community. He is at the forefront of every cause that concerns the beauty, greatness, culture, social advancement, and preservation of the environment of Tilcara and its vast surrounding region. Among a thousand of other commitments, he was the brain behind and the leader of a great movement that, after a long fight, successfully resulted in the implementation of government legislation that prevented the exploration and exploitation of uranium in this region of La Quebrada, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
In passing, I congratulate Argentina and Chile, which in 2013 forced Barrick Gold Corporation, a Canadian mining company (the largest in the world), to abandon its huge Pascual Lama Project. A commendable feat indeed!
I have an ongoing love affair with mountains… Among my "conquests", I do not count Everest, Aconcagua, nor Kilimanjaro, but rather the humble mountains of Honduras, the quite impressive ones of Tilcara, and some sacred mountains in China.
(You may refer to my blog: “The Talking Mountain”.
In French, “La Montagne qui parle”:
7. In China: Buddhism, of course, but also especially Taoism
For followers of Taoism, the bowels of the earth and its littlest folds never stop talking. To the one who knows how to contemplate and listen to them, they reveal the great secrets of life and the mystery of all things. In the grasses, in the flowers, the birds, the leaves, in all that Nature offers us, we can find life, health, wisdom, art, beauty, and true transcendence even to immortality. Everything is Yin and Yang. Everything is fighting for growth and harmony. The smaller we are, the bigger we are. The closer we are to ourselves, the closer we are to Everything. Everything is TAO. The Tao is a great movement, an immense energy that, since the time of Nothingness, has been carrying us, with the stars and all that exists, towards the source of a Reality that is way beyond all that we see, and that is impossible to name. A successful life is one that lets itself be carried away freely, in complete awareness and confidence, in this massive cosmic movement.
I am constantly being challenged by the letters I used to receive from very poor children, beneficiaries of the Hope Project in China, a program which I supported with a couple of partners. These children’s letters exposed the daily drama of life in their remote communities, where people were struggling to survive on very arid land that is also prone to drought and flooding.
The floods in China cause tremendous damage every year, and claim many lives. One of the reasons: In the rush towards urbanization and modernization, they ignored, like we did, the importance of wetlands in the natural control of rivers and flooding. China filled in almost entire lakes in order to provide land to its poor citizenry. Millions were ecstatic, but that would not last long… They would have to later evacuate all these people, and let nature take its course. Certainly, China will have to address this problem sooner or later.
- The infamous smog hovering over all the big Chinese cities…
- The closing of thousands of pollution-producing factories in China…
I ventured far away to the edge of the Gobi Desert, to see for myself the results of China’s efforts to prevent desertification. China had decided to build a second “Great Wall”, not with bricks or stones, but rather with trees. They called it “The Great Green Wall”, a huge barrier of trees spanning the desert to try to ward off the relentlessly advancing sands. I wanted to see, at any cost, this colossal undertaking, even if it was just in its early stages. I did, indeed, see the first smatterings of the wall, but unbeknownst to me at the time, I was trespassing in a strategic area that was strictly forbidden to everyone, especially foreigners. My visit lasted only two days, as the police chased me away from the area. That was more than twenty years ago. I am told that the project has greatly progressed since then.
Recently, on TV, I saw that another huge forestation project was underway in another large desert region of the country (which I am unfamiliar with and the name of which I have forgotten); they are saying that in a few years, this will become one of the largest forested areas of the planet. We are talking about China here!
I still harbour within me this grandiose vision of China, of a man and woman “married” to the Earth, who, by the force of hundreds of thousands of arms, forged the beautiful terraced rice fields which amaze me as much as the pyramids of Egypt.
I am also amazed by traditional Chinese medicine, by the thorough knowledge of the healing properties of plants and herbs that the Chinese have accumulated over thousands of years. Let me not forget the extraordinary tea plantations, and many other marvelous wonders …
I read in the newspapers about a Mr. Ma, an old Chinese man who was planting trees… He must have planted hundreds of thousands of trees, maybe even more than a million … Alone!
(You can also read my article in an issue of La Revue des Missions Étrangères, August 1996: “ÉVANGILE AVEC CARACTÉRISTIQUES CHINOISES” [The Gospel in Chinese Characters])
8. In Japan
On a brief visit to this country, I notice little tufts of green sprinkled throughout the concrete cities. These are little green temples sheltered by tenacious ancient trees. In Japan, as in China, the human, the divine, and Nature are as one.
- In Japan, they dress up the trees, they spruce them up, they take care of them, they heal them …
- And the flowers are divine!
- In Tokyo, I meet up with my colleague, Raymond Nadeau. He invites me to a tea ceremony, and he proudly
shows me that he uses the Quebec film, “The Man who Planted Trees” by Frederic Bach, to introduce his students
(of whom he is the chaplain) to a spirituality that incorporates ecology (which is already the essence of Buddhism
- The Japanese Kami … It seems that Nature is so replete with God that God takes the form of thousands of little gods who are present in every living thing.
In Cambodia and Thailand, there are miniature temples everywhere, dedicated to the spirits of the land on which houses and buildings are built… Everyday people make offerings of fresh fruits to these little gods. A subtle practice that genuinely moves me.
9. 1. Quantum Physics
My understanding is that matter itself is dynamic and living. Matter, ultimately, is Energy, a condensed energy, not very different from energy as we conceive it.
And then there is Hubert Reeves, a man molded by Nature, a man so wise and so knowledgeable that everything complicated becomes simple with him.
10. 1. Our Spirituality and Our View of the World
Our Spirituality and Our View of the World come to us from the Bible, a book that was written in Nature and with Nature. The Bible is indivisible from Nature. Trying to describe the indescribable, the transcendent, the divine, the Bible draws from Nature the images, symbols, and the language necessary to convey its message. Without Nature, what we call “the Word of God” would be like a skeleton devoid of flesh, a concoction of abstract ideas without substance; and Jesus would amount to nothing more than a ghost, an illusion.
On the other hand, the Bible presents us with a darker view of Nature. Man was given the obligation to “subdue” it (Subjugate it!), to “dominate” it, to “tame” it, to “harness” it … In its fierce struggle against idol worship (especially popular fertility cults), the Bible has also succeeded in inherently convincing us that Nature is not only a mirror of the beauty and greatness of God, but also a deadly pitfall of sins constantly waiting to ambush us.
We are stuck with this dilemma. That’s life.
11. 1. Here is a small example of an ‘ecological’ reading of the Gospel, referencing the incident of the vendors in the Temple [Matthew 21:12-13; John 2:13-16]
“Jesus, you make yourself a whip and drive out the vendors, the moneychangers, the merchants of the Temple of the Earth. They ripped open the Earth and disemboweled it; they empty it, bleeding it dry, poisoning its waters, and its atmosphere; they tear it apart, violate it, and leave it in pieces. They profane the grand Temple of Nature, the great mansion of the human family… You make a whip and chase them with their bulldozers, their insecticides, their drills, their cyanide, their petroleum, and their filthy lucre, money…”
Lovely, isn’t it?
12. 1. The Environment and Mission
“Go out into the world and proclaim the Gospel to all Creation.” (Mark 16:15)
“Proclaim the Gospel to all the nations”, we understand clearly, but “Proclaim the Gospel to all Creation”? What does that really mean?
What does it mean? It means that creation shares the same suffering as well as the same hope as all humanity.
Creation also is in chains, like the multitude of faceless, nameless people without a voice, without rights, and too numerous to count… Like the poor of the Earth, creation is often treated as a disposable object, to be exploited; like them, she is being violated, and defiled everyday, and slowly being killed.
However, like all “the damned of the Earth”, creation also yearns for freedom. We who have been “rescued” from our chains (that is, set free) by the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, we who are experiencing freedom now as children of God, we have now become the hope of the Earth itself, desiring to share this freedom with it.
Since we humans were born of the “clay of the Earth”, it is only right that the Earth, which is naturally a part of us, also rise with us and know the glory of the children of God, the same way as our bodies and everything else. A breakthrough revelation!
To work towards recognizing the “Rights of the Earth”, to bind up the wounds of the Earth, to heal her, to help to protect it from our greedy appetite for domination, destruction and death, is to participate in her salvation – to participate in her ultimate liberation, as it were.
THINKING AND WORKING IN THIS WAY IS NOT A STEP BACKWARD, BUT ON THE CONTRARY, IS A HEIGHTENING OF OUR HUMANITY, AND A MOVING FORWARD TO WHAT FAITH CALLS SALVATION.
“Proclaim the Gospel to all Creation”… it must be something like this…
***Add to this a little chapter on my love of photography, and all that it brings me… You can read my article “My Third Eye”:
In French, “Mon troisième oeil”:
Another “very environmentally friendly” article, “Earth”:
In French, “Terre”:
In Spanish, "Soy de tierra":
Eloy Roy, May 10, 2019