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A reflection on the relevance of the Principle and Foundation of St Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises in achieving Ecological consciousness

by Tafumanei Chikanya NSJ

From The Companion - Xavier House Novitiate Newsletter (Zambia - Malawi Province)

ecologyRecent measurements of the Human Ecological Footprint have shown that humanity's demands on nature have on nature have sharply increased over the past few decades. This is in contrast with nature's limited ability to sustain us, or to absorb the waste coming from our varied operations. Recent climatic disasters from droughts, storms and cyclones present an imminent threat to ecological balance.

In religious circles we are challenged by the Encyclical Laudato Si. Pope Francis concluded that social disruptions require a concerted effort towards caring for the environment. At International level, talks have been held, the most recent one held being, The Paris Summit on Climate 2015.

However the question arises, how far do these talks lead to concrete action given a clear trend among several statesmen towards individualistic approaches?

Donald Trump has been reiterating the America first slogan, saying that climate change financing is a waste of funds that can be used on American citizens. There is always a space between us, the Church and the States. This is where my contribution comes in through advocating a theological response to ecological crisis by using principles of Eco-Spirituality. My question will be: how can our different spiritualties help in developing a consciousness that can fill us with a renewed mentality, redefining our relationship with nature from being basically parasitic to being symbiotic?

Having recently done the full Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius, I was struck by the introductory contemplations that set the tone of the retreat. No 23, This Principle and Foundation spells out clearly how we ought to relate with nature, as well as with its creator. Man is createdto praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul. And other things on the face of earth are created for man, that they may help him in pursuing the end for which it is created. [Exo 23.2-3]

The text above clearly explains that we are created for a purpose; it does not contradict the anthropocentric view affirmed in the creative narrative in Genesis. God created people for love and out of love, and He gave Adam and Eve authority to give names to plants and animals. In Genesis 1 vs. 26 – 28, people were given dominion over all things on earth, to subdue them, but this does not mean having an exploitative attitude to defenseless created thing. All other things were created for men, but this does not mean that their intrinsic value matters less than our dominance. Ignatius modeled this dominance by advocating an understanding of creation filled with love. We assumed a co-creative role that obligates us to allot nature its rightful value. During the spiritual exercises, reference is always given to composition of place, what you see, the air and other surrounding things. In the narrative of St Ignatius Cardoner's experience, nature played a significant role in his mystical experiences. All created things were created to help us achieve our end that is: to reverence, praise and serve God. We also know that nature on its own also praises God.

The canticle of Daniel comprehensively sums up all facets by which nature reveres the divine. It is our selfishness in how we use nature that hinders a proper and ordered reverential relationship with nature. For every tree we cut there is a bird that has lost its habitat, and all chemical wastes that come from our advanced scientific operations hinder the proper development of aquatic life.

Understanding how we are to relate with nature will help us to overcome our tendency of looking down at the rest of creation, because our reverential purpose to God is aided by other created things and If we affirm that, then ecological conversion of heart is attainable. Pope Francis reminded us in Laudato Si, that each creature has its own purpose. The entire universe has a role to play in the perfection of God's kingdom. In the 'contemplation to attain divine love', in the Exercises we also think in detail about how God carefully cares for everything and how all these created things have enabled us to be where we are today. This complementarity that exists between nature and humanity can therefore be a paradigm moving us towards age genuine ecological consciousness.

Another significant dynamic that comes from the Principle and Foundation is Ignatian indifference. This means that a person approaches choices in a state of balance, thus freed from our attachments. Our greatest "attachment" or desire is often that of dominance. We are naturally inclined to exploit, this emanates from our creative superiority over nature. If this internal liberty is achieved, our relationship with created things will never be hierarchical but rather mutual. This indifference is not merely prudential passivity, but active attentiveness and prompt responsiveness in our actions, otherwise that may not be purely ordered to the service of God. It also involves making decisions concerning our social endeavors. Having understood the complementarity that exists in the matrix of our relationships with God and created things, we will always consider the will of God first rather than our own selfish inordinate desires. If through the gift of our spirituality we can infuse such an attitude in our friends in schools, in the community, the parish or at an institutional level our discernment in decision- making will be profound and subtle. A few examples of areas where we could have used such a method might have prevented us constructing a shopping mall on a wetland in Zimbabwe or a pipeline in the South Dakota in the United States of America (Guardian Mail January 2017).

The inspiration I got from the Principle and Foundation has deepened my understanding of the Catholic Church's emphasis on the option for the poor. I believe that the principle will open our eyes to see how this ecological crisis can be solved and avoid subsequently deepening the suffering of our poor brothers and sisters. Effective collaboration in caring for our common home can only be achieved if we share common beliefs and attitudes of mind.

This can be partially achieved if we can infuse this idea in our respective pedagogies as a paradigm for ecological consciousness. I conclude by acknowledging the works our fellow Jesuits who have inspired me with this reflection. These include Felix Baturawanayo SJ, Patrice Ndayisenga SJ, John Moore SJ and Makasa Chikwamo SJ, who is currently director of the Jesuit Centre for Ecology and Development in Malawi. Their extensive research and work are a response to the call that General Congregation 36 and the Pope make towards an ecological conversion of the heart.

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