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Science, faith and a new paradigm


Reconciliation with creation is the critical relationship confronting humanity at this time in history, says Sr Patricia Powell RSM from the Rahamim Ecology Centre in Bathurst, New South Wales.

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Speaking at the annual Australasian Catholic Press Association Conference at Mount Panorama, Sr Patricia said we live at an “extraordinary moment” in the history of not just the world but of the universe.

“Never before have we had access to the knowledge we have now about the universe and our planet Earth,” she said.

“This knowledge is pressing into our consciousness for the first time, changing the way we understand reality, creating in our psyches a new paradigm.”

Sr Patricia referred to the biblical story of creation that instructed us to “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and conquer it. Be masters of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven and all living animals on the earth. See I give you all the seed-bearing plants that are upon the whole earth and all the trees with seed-bearing fruit; this shall be your food. To all wild beasts, all birds of heaven and all living reptiles on the earth, I give all the foliage of plants for food.”

“And that section of Genesis concludes and so it was.

“And so it was indeed. We humans have colonised the whole planet. Every other creature whether plant or animal lives in our habitat now and is at our mercy. We are indeed ‘masters’ of creation and we have used the biblical story of creation to justify and rationalise our domination and exploitation of the rest of the natural world.

“Of course, the fault for the current state of the planet cannot be laid solely at the door of Genesis.

“Over the past 200 years, industrialisation and our secular consumer culture and social philosophy of economic rationalism have a lot to answer for.

Sr Patricia said her own personal journey towards ecological conversion had been gradual and began in the 1960s when she was teaching secondary school in Orange.

“It is 50 years this year since a human being first walked on the surface of the moon,” she said.

“Crammed into the community room at the Orange Convent, over 100 spell-bound students and I watched the adventure unfold on a grainy TV picture.

“The focus of our celebration this year has been man’s achievement. But perhaps even more importantly, this achievement gave us a new perspective on our planet Earth – a new image to ignite our imagination.”

Referring to the “overview effect”, a phrase coined by astronauts to describe the transformation of consciousness they underwent, she quoted Apollo crew member William Anders: We came all this way to explore the moon, and the most important thing is that we discovered the earth.

“That now iconic image of Earth from the moon – that blue and white jewel suspended in the blackness of space reinforces the view that Earth is one organic whole,” she said.

“We can no longer think of Earth merely as a collection of nations. Weather patterns, ocean currents, feedback loops that balance temperature variations, tectonic plate activity of the continents – these can’t be controlled by national border security.

“This image of Earth altered my world view forever but I am still grappling with the practical implications of this knowledge.”

Her involvement in education for Aboriginal communities at a time when the fight for land rights was at its height and a sabbatical in Canada studying eco-spirituality were also significant experiences in her journey to ecological conversion.

From camping in the Outback where she “felt totally immersed in the Milky Way” to learning about the New Universe Story and “finding myself in a time zone that reached back 13.7 billion years to what is popularly called the Big Bang”, Sr Patricia found it impossible not to have a new way of looking at the world and understanding reality.

“Our concepts of space and time have been enlarged beyond anything we imagined and both space and time continue to expand with the expansion of the universe,” she said.

“As a woman who brings the lens of faith to all reality, my automatic reaction to this new scientific information was ‘Goodness, God is cleverer than I ever imagined.’

“Not for a moment did the New Universe Story constitute for me a conflict with the Genesis story of Creation or challenge my faith in God. But it has evoked in me a shift in consciousness and changed the way I look at the natural world.

“And just as the New Universe Story is changing the way we look at creation and challenging us to rethink our way of being in the world, the universe brings forth Francis as Pope who sees the world within an emerging new world view and addresses a Letter to the whole world Laudato Si’: Care for our Common Home, which gives us something of a blueprint for right relationship or being reconciled with creation and each other.”

Sr Patricia said Pope Francis clearly identified the connection between destruction of the environment and injustice and oppression of people, particularly the poor. And he promoted an integral ecology of environment, society and economy as a way towards a mutually enhancing human-earth relationship.

“Such leadership inspires hope in an age of indifference bordering on despair,” she said.



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