We are one - Madonna Magazine

We are one

Sr Patricia Powell RSM 15 November 2019

Our knowledge of the universe and our planet Earth is changing how we understand reality, Sr Patricia told the Australasian Catholic Press Association Conference.

‘New scientific discoveries and their implications, are starting to influence my understanding and expression of right relationship or reconciliation with creation.’

Sr Patricia said three events in her lifetime have pushed her towards an ecological conversion.

The first occurred 50 years ago when man walked upon the moon. ‘This achievement gave us a new perspective on our planet Earth. The astronauts coined a phrase to describe the transformation of consciousness this new perspective gave them. They called it ‘The overview effect.’

Quoting astronauts, Sr Patricia said this view from space had the effect of eliminating borders and showing Earth as one organic whole.

‘The second significant experience in my ecological conversion came in the 1980s when I was appointed to Dubbo in response to a request from the Wiradjuri Elders for Sisters to assist Aboriginal people access educational opportunities.’

She said these years in Dubbo were the years Aboriginal Australians were actively engaged in the struggle for Landrights.

Relationship to the land

While out of her comfort zone in Landrights marches, and protests at Parliament House, Sr Patricia said she was committed to the people she was serving and the causes they espoused. ‘And this particular cause immersed me in their felt connectedness and spiritual relationship to land’.

‘My third significant experience was in Canada on sabbatical. One of the courses I enrolled in was called eco-spirituality, which was an introduction to Catholic teaching about creation and the natural world down through the ages.’

While Sr Patricia’s original time span for this was the 2000-year time span of Christianity, she found herself in time zone that reached back 13.7 billion years to what is popularly called the ‘Big Bang’.

‘This is when I was introduced to the New Universe Story emerging out of the discoveries of Western science.

‘As I reflected on the scientific data, a new way of looking at the world and understanding reality was becoming something I could not avoid taking into account.

For example:

‘The Universe is expanding. Scientists have been able to see and measure the speed of galaxies moving away from each other in every direction. Run this process backwards, and the age of the universe can be calculated: 13.7 billion years. This knowledge challenges political and religious assumptions and dogmas we thought were beyond question.

We are all kin

‘We used to think that the human was of a completely different order from other life forms. But all living organisms store genetic information using the same molecules – DNA and RNA. Written in the genetic code of these molecules is compelling evidence of the shared ancestry of all living things, both animal and plant. We are all kin and every part of creation has intrinsic value – not just for its usefulness to us.

‘That information has the potential to modify the way we relate to the rest of creation. ‘Moreover, all life functions within eco-systems. To destroy one part of the eco-system has repercussions throughout the eco-system.

‘The chemical elements in our bodies are found throughout the known universe. We are literally made of stardust, while at the same time we have emerged out of the dynamics that have shaped Earth.

‘As a woman who brings the lens of faith to all reality, my automatic reaction to this new scientific information was “Goodness, God is cleverer than I ever imagined”.’

Sr Patricia said the New Universe Story has never caused her a conflict with the Genesis story of Creation or challenged her faith in God.

Wonder and awe

‘It has evoked in me a shift in consciousness and changed the way I look at the natural world. I feel wonder and awe as I reflect on the story and contemplate the geology of mountains or the biodiversity of landscapes.

‘I feel frustration and sadness as I witness the Amazon rainforest – the lungs of the planet – burning or being destroyed for palm oil plantations, hamburgers or throw-away tissues. I feel anger and despair as the rivers of the Murray Darling Basin dry up because management plans are sabotaged.

I feel fear and outrage as record hot temperatures and record low rainfall and other catastrophic weather events are documented, and still global warming is denied and measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are side-stepped by our government.

‘And just as the New Universe Story is changing the way we look at creation and challenging us to rethink our way of being in the world, the universe brings forth Francis as Pope who, with Laudato si’, gives us something of a blueprint for right relationship or being reconciled with creation and each other.

‘Pope Francis sees clearly the connection between destruction of the environment and injustice and oppression of people, particularly the poor. And he promotes an integral ecology of environment, society and economy as a way towards a mutually enhancing human-earth relationship. Such leadership inspires hope in an Age of Indifference bordering on despair.’ 

Patricia Powell rsm is the acting manager of Rahamim Ecology Centre Bathurst. This article is an edited version of a talk she gave at the Australasian Catholic Press Association Conference in Bathurst in September.