This blog is meant as a theological-artistic exploration of the encyclical's core theme. For his drawings, Sander Vloebergs was inspired by archetypical images of the earth/the Goddess. The interpretation of the art works are the fruit of a dialogue between Sander and Lieve Orye, who approached the pictures with a focus on theological epistemology.
by Sander Vloebergs in cooperation with Lieve Orye
This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters (Laudato si §2)
A Franciscan way of knowing, kinship and love
The first words we read in Laudato Si’ are words that help us to see what is around us – the ground we walk on, the air we breath - as kin – as brother, as sister, as mother. “[O]ur common home is like a sister with whom we share our lives and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us”(§1). But not only are they as kin to us. It is through all His creatures, brother sun and sister moon, through our sister Mother earth that He is praised. In Laudato Si' we are invited to go beyond the language of science, of mathematics or biology, beyond intellectual appreciation and economic calculus, to join Francis in song, learning again to recognize our unity with all creatures around us as sisters and brothers with whom we could and should kindle our bonds of affection. Through this recognition and through this bond we will hear again the call to care for all that exists. We should learn to see again with openness to awe and wonder, learn to speak again the language of fraternity and beauty, the language of kinship and connection (§11).
Sometimes the distinction is made between a Dominican way of knowing that thrives on abstract properties and designations, a knowing that that draws on first- and third-person avowals, and a Franciscan mode of knowledge that describes the world in terms of categories that require an acquaintance with certain stories and persons in order to understand. The latter is a kind of knowing that is not reducible to a knowledge that. It involves a kind of second-person knowing. It requires us not to remain at a distance but to get personally involved with that or those one seeks to know or to recognize the personal involvement that is unavoidably there. Though Pope Francis certainly does not dismiss the Dominican, more scientific, detached kind of knowledge about the world, he nevertheless stresses with his opening words the need to rekindle a Franciscan way of knowing made possible through love. Such knowledge seems particularly needed when suffering is involved, and when a knowledge is needed that does not become a form of domination. That Pope Francis considers the earth herself as one among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor, is therefore telling: Both the suffering of the earth and the suffering of the poor is a suffering that needs to be understood beyond abstract theory and distant analysis, through the listening to and telling of stories that allows us to learn how to be in relation to the main characters of the story. Through these stories second person experiences can be told in a way that the distinctively second-person character of the experiences is kept alive. Through these stories love can be nourished rooted in a reason that is constituted by the lover's relationship with the beloved. Christians tell and listen to the story of how God so loved the world that he sent his only son. But the story also tells us that we crucified him.
Stories and images to learn to see earth as suffering kin
We also need to tell the story of how we crucified our own Mother Earth. These sisters and brothers have been and continue to be wronged deeply. The images we now often get to see in documentaries or news programs are images of damage, of lack, of chaos. It is the image of a Mother Nature who bleeds. In those images, the risen Christ seems unbearably absent leaving us only the ugliness of the wounds, the filthy scars of a broken body. Without his deified flesh there is nothing glorious about this sight. We are slaughtering our own flesh without any chance of resurrection, sacrificing her for our own idols, killing her for our own utopia. The second paragraph of Laudato Si’ gets straight to the nub of the matter. Our relation has become one of carelessness, of negligence, of objectification and exploitation. We no longer hear the world, no longer read the pages of the book of Nature as a song of praise, and so do not hear the cry as the cry of a loved one, even when we realize, in economic terms, in scientific terms, or even in our own bodies that in being careless and exploitative towards our world we are careless and exploitative towards ourselves.
We must learn to commune again with all creation (§11), learn to burst out in song again. Though we need scientific analyses of what is going wrong, of what causes the rise in temperature and what will be its consequences, we must also take up again the telling of stories through word and image, through material creation and divine inspiration, in search of the prophetic voice of the Earth, calling out to us, reminding us of the prophesy of a Kingdom to come, of a new creation in which the groaning will cease. The three images of Mother Earth in this blog are an attempt to go beyond a dissecting language, beyond a language of problems and solutions, beyond a language that allows us to deny our involvement. These are images that search to show how the limits which are written in our bodies are repulsive to the exiles of Eden, to modern man. The crisis of limits that, as Jared Schumacher noted in his post, spilled into how we talk about and see and experience the world, has brought us from the Endlessness of Elohim to the Hollowness of Hades, believing it to be the ultimate freedom. The gift of mortality is transformed into the burden of suffering. As revenge, we chastise our Godesses, icons of Nature which wear the face of the inevitable Son.
Trapped between antichrist and Imago Dei these images try to create an interplay between the dream of mankind and the dream of God. They are hybrid bodies raising up from the earth, touched by the divine, befouled by sin, bleeding for us. The ultimate choice is ours; to drink the life giving water or the poison of the serpent; to suffer from compassion or from hate; to enjoy the labor pains and the re-creation of the world or to torture the Earth for her blasphemy against the modern ideals.
In these images Mother Earth calls out to us, calls us, “not to amass information or to satisfy curiosity, but rather to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it” (§19).