Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Pope and Pocahontas

OK, stay with me. I believe this works.

I was recently reflecting on Pope Benedict's latest letter to the world, Caritas in Veritate, and was captivated by the attention and reverence he gave to creation. It was in section 48. And then I thought about the Disney Pocahontas song.

Come run the hidden pine trails of the forest
Come taste the sunsweet berries of the Earth
Come roll in all the riches all around you
And for once, never wonder what they're worth

Now I grew up loving the woods. I discovered Thoreau's Walden when I was in high school and I found myself reading snatches of it constantly, and reflecting on them as I'd walk the bogs or the pine woods of southern New Jersey. As a young Catholic, I discovered that God not only poured his Grace and Love into us through the Bible and the seven sacraments, but through His first Book, Creation as well. God has planted (and continues to plant) countless lessons for us in the rise and fall of the seasons, and in the rhythm of life of all manner of creatures.

Creation is our first birthday present, in a manner of speaking. These miracles around us are like little love letters for us. With prayer and a sacramental vision, we can discover in a walk outside a shimmering trail of signs pointing to God.

Sadly, I've met many "Conservative" Catholics who are afraid to read this book. They feel it's like dipping our toes in the waters of the New Age movement. But how can God's creation, when rightly viewed, lead anywhere else but to... God? Enter Pope Benedict...

Nature expresses a design of love and truth. It is prior to us, and it has been given to us by God as the setting for our life. Nature speaks to us of the Creator (cf. Rom 1:20) and his love for humanity. It is destined to be “recapitulated” in Christ at the end of time (cf. Eph 1:9-10; Col 1:19-20). Thus it too is a “vocation”. Nature is at our disposal not as “a heap of scattered refuse”[116], but as a gift of the Creator who has given it an inbuilt order, enabling man to draw from it the principles needed in order “to till it and keep it” (Gen 2:15).
- Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 48

Years ago, when the Disney film Pocahontas came out, I remember being struck by some of the lines in the song Colors of the Wind.

You think you own whatever land you land on
The Earth is just a dead thing you can claim
But I know every rock and tree and creature
Has a life, has a spirit, has a name...

Now I knew there was some truth to this, but I knew as well that something was just a bit off as the song continued. Man suddenly became "lost in the cosmos" to quote a Walker Percy title. Just another piece of the mosaic, with "the heron and the otter as his friends." So just as I've met some who shy away from creation, I've met some who have obsessed about it, seeing God as somehow in everything - a kind of Christian pantheism. We should remember that the Spirit hovered "over" the waters in the beginning of Genesis, not within them. That's what we mean by the term "supernatural."

I think we just need balance, which is exactly what the Pope gives us in his latest encyclical:

...It should also be stressed that it is contrary to authentic development to view nature as something more important than the human person. This position leads to attitudes of neo-paganism or a new pantheism — human salvation cannot come from nature alone, understood in a purely naturalistic sense.
- Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 48

Keeping our heads about us is the key. Pope Benedict quoted his predecessor Pope Paul VI as saying that “the world is in trouble because of the lack of thinking.” We need to recognize that our place in the universe is not random or insignificant, nor is our role to act as dominators of the environment.

...It is also necessary to reject the opposite position, which aims at total technical dominion over nature, because the natural environment is more than raw material to be manipulated at our pleasure; it is a wondrous work of the Creator containing a “grammar” which sets forth ends and criteria for its wise use, not its reckless exploitation.
- Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 48

We are sons and daughters who have been given the task of caring for and custody of all creatures great and small. We are stewards of a great gift, and if we are attentive to it, if we listen to it, we can learn much from it. As the Pope said in his letter, "The way humanity treats the environment influences the way it treats itself..." (CV 51)

You can own the Earth and still
All you'll own is earth until
You can paint with all the colors of the wind

That "wind" in my mind is the Holy Spirit, Who alone can give us the insights and the grace we need to untwist what is twisted in our thoughts, our music, our agendas and ideas, and essentially our world. So come Holy Spirit, enlighten us!

With Christians, a poetical view of things is a duty. We are bid to color all things with hues of faith, to see a divine meaning in every event.
- Cardinal John Henry Newman


  1. This is great. One of my friends alerted me to your blog; I think it's fantastic. I love how God's grace can redeem ANYTHING and will one day redeem even our planet from the ravages of sin.

  2. This is simply wonderful. :) All I can say is, thank you! :)