Mary Ryan-Hotchkiss – Portland Chapter
Stimulated by the Affiliate Book Group’s discussion of Elizabeth Johnson’s book, Abounding in Kindness, I eagerly anticipated hearing her talk at a local university. She asked, “Is God’s Charity Broad Enough for Bears?” Johnson has been criticized by some Catholic groups because of her support for giving women greater authority in the church and her willingness to speak at meetings of Catholics who disagree with the church on some issues, but here she was greeted as a one who should be on a theological Mt. Rushmore because of her achievements and role in American theological thought.
Johnson told the packed auditorium that nineteenth century naturalist John Muir claimed God’s charity is broad enough for bears. If so, she asked us why believers and theologians haven’t stepped in to protect the earth from its destruction by human domination and consumerism. She presented one obstacle and proposed three remedies to this disastrous situation. Johnson posited that the major obstacle to protecting the earth is a theology that puts humans at the peak of a pinnacle, a little lower than God, but in dominion/domination above all creatures and the material world. Drawing from evolutionary science and Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’, she presented the challenge that loving the Earth and its species as a neighbor must become an intrinsic part of faith in God. She emphasized that humans are a part, not the pinnacle, and even a recent arrival according to evolutionary science, to the circle of creation.
After quoting extensively from Laudato Si’, Johnson proposed three spiritual practices to foster care for the earth: Contemplation, Asceticism, and Advocacy. Contemplation will bring us into connection with our true nature and our proper relationship with the earth and fellow creatures. An Asceticism that turns us from unbridled consumerism will allow us to recognize our appetites and will minimize our harming the rest of creation. Once we truly feel and accept that we are just a part of this vast community of creation we will feel impelled to Advocate for the well-being for the whole of creation.