The snow kept coming, and so did over two thousand of us who wouldn’t let the weather keep us from making the Climate March on April 29, 2017 in Denver. The wind, wet and cold didn’t dampen our spirits as we chanted, “Love this planet” and “This is what democracy looks like.”
Fr. Dave Denny loved how he was included in the sign: “When even old white guys are protesting, resist.” I loved the more serious quote from historian Howard Zinn: “Protest beyond the law is not a departure from democracy: it is absolutely essential to it.” And I was charmed by the sweet little boy whose sign read: “I speak for the trees.”
I marched beside Fr. Dave, my niece, Tara Bielecki, and some of her “resistance group.” I wanted Pope Francis beside me, too, since I’ve been so inspired by his encyclical on the environment. Francis calls for an “ecological conversion” and an “ecological spirituality… not dissociated from the body or from nature or from worldly realities, but lived in and with them.” He quotes Pope Saint John Paul II who insisted, “Christianity does not reject matter.” (I’ve always insisted that “matter matters.”)
For fifty years I’ve been immersed in contemplative spirituality, first of all by living it, and then cultivating it in our contemporary society, which often mitigates against contemplation because of the very obstacles the pope lists: “constant noise, interminable and nerve-racking distractions… frenetic activity… constant hurry…,” a “utilitarian mindset” and an “unhealthy anxiety [which] makes us superficial, aggressive and compulsive consumers.” Now I’m calling my contemplative spirituality an “ecological spirituality.”
What does it look like? An ecological and contemplative spirituality, says the pope, is characterized by gratitude, generosity, “healthy humility,” and a “happy sobriety,” which understands the ancient lesson of “less is more.” It cherishes each thing and each moment in “serene attentiveness,” being fully present to each reality, however small. An ecological spirituality is lovingly aware that we live in a “web of relationships,” a splendid communion with all creation in “interconnected global solidarity.” An ecological spirituality is reflected in a “balanced lifestyle,” an “inner peace” and a “capacity for wonder” and awe.
This is quite a testimony from a Roman Catholic pope. I love the down-to-earth and often lyrical language, remarkably free of “Vaticanese.” Francis even quotes a Sufi mystic, Ali al-Khawas, who wrote: “There is a subtle mystery in each of the movements and sounds of this world. The initiate [that is, the contemplative] will capture what is being said when the wind blows, the trees sway, water flows, flies buzz, doors creak, birds sing, or in the sound of strings and flutes, the sighs of the sick, the groans of the afflicted.”
Francis wisely points out that this ecological and contemplative lifestyle is lived out in “little daily actions,” “simple gestures of heartfelt courtesy,” and a “responsible simplicity of life.” Lest we think this is too insignificant, he asserts: “We must not think that these efforts are not going to change the world. They benefit society, often unbeknown to us, for they call forth a goodness which, albeit unseen, inevitably tends to spread.”
Our society tends to value action over contemplation and makes a false distinction between the two when they actually form one continuum. For some people, action predominates, for others contemplation. True contemplation overflows into action. And effective action grows out of contemplation, because action without contemplation is blind. Pope Francis explains that contemplation “protects human action from becoming empty activism.”
He recommends grace before and after meals and celebrating the Sabbath with rest, “relaxation and festivity.” I recommend slowing down, silence and solitude, leisure, manual labor, “personal passionate presence” (a juicier expression of mindfulness), meditation and prayer, “spiritual friendship,” and yes, Sabbath and celebration, poetry and play.
After all, we can’t always be out marching.