Who Are We (Becoming)?

Decades ago I heard a talk by Daniel C. Maguire that included a thought that deeply impressed me: that the missing link between apes and true humans is actually us! In Maguire’s Christianity Without God, I learned that this shape-shifting concept came from biblical scholar Gerd Theissen.

imagesI also like the title of an article by Walter J. Ong, SJ: “Where Are We Now?” Given all we’ve learned from physicists and cosmologists, we are not where, or who, we thought we were a century ago. The new context bumps us from our former self-understanding.

Our self-identity plays a key role not just in personal issues, but in the epochal transition of our time, as we leave one era and co-create the next one. Consider an insight found in Changing Images of Man (O.W. Markey and Willis W. Harman) that posits four levels of reality. Too often humans focus on identifying problems and how we deal with them. But this depends on what motivates us, which in turn results from our basic values and worldviews, the overarching stories that determine how we identify ourselves and others, including the divine and creation itself.

Willis and Markey use different sizes of wavy lines, but their insights work without them:

1. Substantive problems: What we see (e.g., poverty, pollution,
climate  change . . . .)

2. Process Problems: How we deal with these problems (e.g., deny, ignore, respond)

3. Normative Problems: What motivates us (e.g.,  acquiring wealth, concern for creation)

4. Conceptual Problems: What forms our values and motivations; What are our basic perceptions (e.g., our cosmic view, sense of identity, image of the divine, how these are interconnected)

The many creation stories of the major faith traditions (level 4) began when knowledge was intuitive: flat earth with a level above it, a level below it. No one questioned the true age of creation. Believers today must adjust their identities to the world as we now know it. Change challenges the mind and heart — but change we must, and the Mystery given many names is active within us to assist when/if we are open.

To start with perceptions of self: If our basic story convinces us that we are
– isolated from, and superior to, the rest of creation,
– on Earth temporarily to care only for humans, and
– here to earn a place in heaven above,
that percolates up into our values and decisions. As a result, we might not protect the  climate, air, water, soil, and other species upon which all life depends. We might  miss the new awareness that humans, divinity, and all creation form one distinct but interacting community that has evolved over billions of years. We might not appreciate that we are stardust webbed with the rest of known creation!

Berry3 for website Small wonder that Thomas Berry called for the reinvention of humanity at the species level! He famously said: The great work of our times is moving the human community from its present situation as a destructive presence on the planet to a benign or mutually enhancing presence.

Might this describe “true humans”? How did Jesus contribute to this reinvention?

Willow Harth expresses this new identity poetically. Despite her title, this is definitely for each of us:

This poem is not meant for you

This poem is not for you
unless you too have been underground
choking on your life’s debris, and
playing peek-a-boo with death seriously

then the surprise of ten thousand buttercups buttercup_field
out of nowhere on every side where they’d
never been before on my daily walk
might have had the effect on you it did on me

because suddenly

I wanted to understand how these particular
flowers came to be — the whole evolutionary
history of mosses, ferns, and angiosperms,
the miracle of photosynthesis and DNA, not

to mention the longings of the Milky Way
to reflect itself in the form called flowers and
in these buttercups, which seemed like a
visitation from the sun, urging me to tell you, in
case like me you had forgotten

we are the universe’s latest way of blooming.


May 15, Saint Isadore, Patron of Farmers 

glass-of-milk-000005523842large-21When I was very young, I lived several weeks each summer with a farm family. Although all “plumbing” was outdoors and we had to pump water, with the exception of watching a chicken be killed I have only the happiest memories of these visits. On my return to the city the first summer, I asked my parents if we could start using cow milk instead of store milk. Duh!

While that ignorance seems impossible, I suspect the underlying disconnect is not uncommon for many whose food comes primarily from packages and fast food stores. And, what a loss! We miss the marvel, the awe, that Mary Oliver expresses in her poem “Beans Green and Yellow”:

In fall
it is mushrooms
gathered from dampness              images-1
under the pines;
in spring
I have known
the taste of the lamb
full of milk
and spring grass
it is beans green and yellow
and lettuce and basil
from my friend’s garden —
how calmly,
as though it were an ordinary thing,
we eat the blessed earth.

The Blessed Earth

Earth, soil, dirt, as St. Francis reminded us, “feeds us and rules us and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.” The SHCJ mission statement calls us to help others believe that “God lives and acts in us and in our world” — soil included! Francis couldn’t have known that “Sister Earth, our Mother” can take between 500 to thousands of years for rock to become this precious membrane of life on our planet. Fortunately, Earth has had time for this.

A handful of healthy forest soil is home to interconnected life communities of up to 10 billion bacteria, about a million plump yeasts and fungi, and tens of thousands of other creatures!

For centuries farmers protected their soil by rotation, compost, etc. Now, however, loss of topsoil from various reasons threatens farmers (and thus eaters!) globally.

imagesSoil was present when prehistoric animals roamed the Earth. Humans began to farm about 12,000 years ago. Farmers in what is now Mexico began breeding varieties of corn about 7,000 years ago. Worldwide, crops like potatoes, apples and rice each developed thousands of varieties depending on soil, light, and general growing conditions (think varieties of wine). This diversity protected the interests of farmers, soil, water, and climate — and all life that depended upon this nourishment. Until the advent of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and other artificial agents, all food was grown organically.

Farming’s Future

In an April 18, 2015, posting, The Ecologist (http://www.theecologist.org/) stated that a profit-driven model of agriculture enriches corporations while impoverishing farmers by taking their land and water, depleting resources, and undermining sustainable livelihoods — not to mention adding to climate change. (Agribusiness is the world’s largest single source of greenhouse gases.)

“The real problem isn’t that we are, or will be, short of food in any aggregate sense, but that it is poorly distributed because of deep imbalances of power. Throwing vast amounts of money at large corporate models, and telling governments to put in place rules that focus solely on bolstering the ability of large institutions to grab huge tracts of land for industrial, often mono-culture farms, only deepens those power imbalances . . . . 

Family farmers already produce 70% of the world’s food. Their   latino-a-farms   sustainable methods increase crop yields over time, maintain the  health of the soil, and sequester large amounts of carbon. Synthetic methods, on the other hand, plateau and then decrease yield, actively degrade soil and produce greenhouse gasses in enormous quantities.”

Agribusiness, GMOs, and mono-cropping are not the answer! Among other problems, the industrial model of farming forces farmers to be beholden to lenders for seeds, which has caused 300,000 suicides in India alone. To reverse the negative trends, the United Nations has designated 2015 the “Year of the Soil.”

Fortunately, community gardens, roof gardens, farmers’ markets, and coops are increasingly helping children and adults realize their connection with “the blessed [E]arth.” More and more shoppers are
images-2buying organic and local produce. More and more are aware of the importance of caring not just for farmers and their farms, but for everything needed to sustain healthful crops for the present and the future. Some people are making compost from food scraps, vegetation, and newspaper. Some practice vermiculture (worm farming) to decompose waste and turn it into a rich soil.


Friday, May 15th, is the remembrance day for St. Isadore, patron of farmers. I suggest we not only remember farmers, but also re-member them! We food consumers can more consciously re-connect and honor the interconnections between and among those who labor in the fields, the soil, the water, and the climate that are so essentially interconnected, and the food we too-often buy packaged and sanitized, stripped of its origins. Let’s also connect with future generations of all life — human and all our biotic relations — who will be affected by our decisions about how farming is done.

Let’s celebrate on May 15th by gratefully eating meals of local and organic food — but let’s also use our political power to ask legislators to  protect our family farms and warn us when food is genetically modified.

It is definitely not “an ordinary thing” to eat the blessed Earth! How might you participate in remembering? 


Earth Day Prayer


Unknown(Adapt to your needs. Music suggestions are
listed at the end; they or others can be used
anywhere during the prayer. If possible,
provide a centerpiece featuring some of Earth’s
gifts — including something organic, local, and fair trade that can be shared after the prayer.)

Earth Day — April 22, 2015 — marks the 45th anniversary of the first Earth Day, arguably the beginning of the environmental movement in the United States. We celebrate Earth Day during the season of spring in the Northern Hemisphere and the time of liturgical celebrations in several religions that mark new life and exodus from bondage to freedom.

Those interested in Earth Day are aware of the many threats to our interconnected Earth. It is an appropriate time to pause for reflection and prayer.

Pause for a few moments’ quiet reflection on the wonder, earth_from_space_5_1920x1080variety, individuality and “interbeing” of Earth’s existence in our solar system and universe.

Let us join in thanking the Source of Life for the gift of Earth. Take turns reading the following litany.
God of Love and Abiding Faithfulness, we give thanks.

–  for revealing creative love from the first flaring forth, when Earth’s story begins, God of Love and Abiding Faithfulness, we give thanks.

–  for Earth’s continuing evolution from stardust through its 5 billion year story so far, God of Love and Abiding Faithfulness, we give thanks.

–  for Earth’s ability to create, to heal, to diversify, to adapt, to be intrinsically interconnected, God of Love and Abiding Faithfulness, we give thanks. 

Unknown-1–  for the colorful and nurturing gifts that developed in our era: flowers and trees, fish and mammals, human beings who collaborated and bonded to further their species, God of Love and Abiding Faithfulness, we give thanks.

–  for the gifts of water, soil, air, climate, flora and fauna, and the bioregions that developed over millennia, God of Love and Abiding Faithfulness, we give thanks.

–  for the challenges that Earth has encountered during her long story, and for the creative ways she developed to heal them, God of Love and Abiding Faithfulness, we give thanks.

–  for the Spirit that inspired Senator Gaylord Nelson to establish Earth Day: one person’s commitment now motivates people to action in nearly 200 countries, God of Love and Abiding Faithfulness, we give thanks.

–  Add as you wish.

Let us deepen our commitment to care for Earth. Take turns reading the following litany.
Response:   Help us give life to the world.

Water-Drought – Because stockpiles of nuclear weapons threaten all life whether or not they are ever used, help us give life to the world.

– Because climate change already causes massive damage to all life on Earth, help us give life to the world.

– Because multiple causes are resulting in a Sixth Major Extinction of life on Earth, help us give life to the world.

–  Because mono-crops and farming with harmful chemicals result in inferior food and spoiled soil and water, help us give life to the world.

greenpeace31–  Because pollution, especially from plastics, is trashing so much of our planet including our oceans, help us give life to the world.

–  Because human greed exploits humans and other species and resources, help us give life to the world.

–  Because so many suffer from problems caused by, or causing, environmental damage, help us give life to the world.

Pause for a few moments’ quiet reflection. Share if you wish: What can we do, alone and/or with others, to enhance Earth’s future?

Closing prayer: Loving Source of Life, we, being of Earth and blessed with the Spirit living and acting within us, join together this Earth Day to renew our awe and appreciation of our precious planet. May our awe and appreciation result in actions that witness to our concerns for Earth. We ask that your presence within us will empower us to co-create a thriving planet now and into the future.


Some music suggestions:
Let All Things Now Living
What a Wonderful World
Touch the Earth with Gentleness (Kathy Sherman)
How Great Thou Art

* For a two-sided pdf containing everything except the suggested music,  please contact terrishcj@aol.org.