A tree….waits. It just waits and waits. For us to cut it down. – Jesuit Student @ Hekima College
I visited Hekima College in Nairobi where I lead a seminar on ecology, spirituality, and climate change. We discussed climate change in relation to equality, poverty, social justice, spirituality, and the inherent dignity of nature and life. We reflected on Laudato Si, Pope Francis’s beautiful encyclical on the environment. I shared the Healing Earth textbook, a new resource for teaching climate change.
I found the Jesuits at Hekima open and sensitive to deeper values reflected in nature.
A great discussion followed.
When I prepared for the lecture in Nairobi, I looked out the window and saw: a butterfly bigger than a bird and a bird, smaller than a butterfly. A reminder that bio-diversity was invented in the Rift Valley, Kenya. Western Kenya should have the largest species diversity in the world. Now, many species are extinct, and the region is under threats related to climate change, rural poverty, political violence and displacement, deforestation, and over-use of pesticides.
My talk is about ecology, but this is really about dignity.
When St Ignatius said: “Go set the world on fire.” I think he was also saying: don’t conform. Be different. Be you. By being your own true self – you contribute to the diversity that makes the world alive and beautiful.
In Swahili, Hekima means “wisdom.” Wisdom comes from life experience and clear reflection. There is more academic & political talk these days about climate change. And policy change must happen. The processes by which most institutions interact with the environment needs a re-think. However, even the way we think about environment needs a re-think.
I believe that when western/ized consumer cultures see – and feel – how climate change impacts the poor – real change begins. As western lifestyles get faster, increasingly throwaway and consumeristic, the divides between privilege and poverty – between north and south – just gets bigger. It’s never been more important to reflect with a clear mind and an honest heart.
If brothers and sisters are hurting, then we, as a global society, are all hurting.
An example. Many children in Kenya walk great distances every morning to collect water for the household. Water is very heavy, and the distances can be far. When climate drought hits a region and that pond evaporates, the children must run further and further…until? Sometimes local water is privatized, and ground-water directed to tourist destinations.
Through climate change and privatization of water, an entire community can be wiped out. For many parts of the world, climate change means a total loss of empowerment – and loss of life. What if this was happening to your community, your city, your village, your family, your friends – right now? As one who seeks to understand climate change, and walk with others – how do you respond?
The environment – is both a resource and a gift. A place of life, solace and peace. No one can really own a resource. It must be shared.
The pale flowers of the dogwood outside this window are saints. The little yellow flowers that nobody notices on the edge of that road are saints looking up into the face of God. – Thomas Merton, From The New Seeds of Change
Many thanks to Principal Peter Knox SJ, the students, and the Hekima Jesuits for the warm welcome and the great discussion.
Climate Question: What is in your heart?