Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue
Exercising Contemplative Power
Reflection – Global Climate Change

March 2012

One morning I arrived at my office early. Pat, the woman who cleans for us was busily at work. She commented on the mild New England winter we were experiencing. I responded in a dubious non-committal way sharing my own personal love for “winter in winter.” She looked somewhat shocked. “God knows what he is doing,” she retorted. Pensively I responded—more to myself than to her–even as the words came out of my mouth, “It is not God I am worried about.” She responded, “Oh sister, don’t tell me you are one of those—where’s your faith?”

“Oh no, what is happening here?” I thought to myself. It was still early in the morning and without even willing it I found the climate change predictions moving through my mind like a slide presentation: increasing heat waves, floods, storms, fire and droughts, causing death and displacement for hundreds of millions of people; between 200 and 600 million people will experience extreme hunger; by 2080 between 1.1 and 3.2 billion people will face water shortages; flood waters could make life difficult for between 2 and 7 million people in New York and Tokyo alone; a 1 to 2 degree Celsius rise in temperature could see the extinction of one third of the species of the world.

All the warning bells went off: “Stop this conversation now! A recitation of these predictions is not going to help. In fact it may make things worse.” Two other people came into the room and we were both taken away from the conversation into other matters of the day. I breathed a sigh of relief—“Thank you God—saved by the bell!”

Where do we go with these conversations? Do we try the “Precautionary Principle,” acknowledging the skepticism about global climate change, but suggesting it would be at least prudent to respond now to such dire predictions? Do we make ourselves really vulnerable and share (as in my own case) the horror and fright of seeing photos of cherry blossoms blooming on February 2nd? Do we appeal to a universally shared sense of compassion for those human and other-than human beings suffering from the effects of severe climate events such as drought and flooding? Perhaps we try the words of more credible authorities such as the Holy Father and the Bishops. Might these be examples of exercising contemplative power?

Let’s try a completely different option: this skepticism in the face of undisputed facts must be born of fear and powerlessness on the one hand; on the other hand it may be born of a genuine belief in the Providence of God. How to hold and acknowledge this fear, or faith, without dismissing what has been called by many the most serious moral issue of our day. Might this be an example of exercising contemplative power?

How about yet another approach: go for the common ground. It could sound like this: “Wow we both share a deep faith in God’s care for creation—and besides who doesn’t like pleasant weather? We both want to see future generations living on a flourishing planet Earth where there is adequate food and water for all. How can we work cooperatively to build personal and communal lifestyles which ensure this will be the reality into the long term future?”

Maybe with all the issues we are considering (Immigration, Political Climate, the Middle East) it is in the intersection of the differences between individuals holding diverse values and beliefs that the power of contemplation is more readily seen. It is, after all, through contemplation that rough edges are smoothed, universal compassion for the suffering of all beings deepened, and a divine alchemy transforms individuals and nations to a place of flourishing beyond and even in spite of all our differences. As Bede Griffiths suggested:

All mediation should lead into the world of non-duality, when all the differences—conflicts—in this world are transcended—not that they are simply annulled, but that they are taken up into a deeper unity of being in which all conflicts are resolved—rather like colors being absorbed into pure white light, which contains all the colors, but resolves their differences.

On second thought, I’d like another opportunity for that conversation about global climate change with Pat.

Written by: Margaret Galiardi, OP

© 2012 Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue
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