Pope Francis’ Encyclical “Laudato Si,” Mother Earth and Her Beauty

Pope Francis’ Encyclical on Climate Change and Ecology “Laudato Si” translates as “Praise Be to you.” I think this may be the first time a Pope has invoked the term “Mother Earth” in an encyclical—which Pope Francis does on several occasions.  He celebrates the beauty of the Earth and laments its demise in our time.

I would like to focus today on the idea of beauty as a name for God.   This teaching has been sorrowfully missing in modern discourse and theology, and its absence allows us to treat creation as object rather than something precious and sacred.  In the encyclical we find phrases like:

“Nature is a magnificent book in which God speaks to us and grants us a glimpse of his infinite beauty and goodness.”

God’s plan is “for peace, beauty and fullness.”

The entire universe holds a “mysterious beauty of what is unfolding” that we can come to know.

After speaking of the disappearance of ecosystems and creatures, we are told to beware of substituting “an irreplaceable and irretrievable beauty with something which we have created ourselves.”

The words “awe” and “wonder” are employed at least fourteen times in the encyclical.  Echoing the teaching of Rabbi Heschel that without awe the universe becomes a marketplace for us, the pope teaches that “if we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder,…our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. So long as we are in touch with “wonder and awe” we recognize a “continuing revelation of the divine” in the smallest and largest forms within nature.  

Our honoring of the sacredness of creation is the basis for all prophetic action in the world. We must first honor and cherish all creation as an expression or mirror of the Divine Beauty.  “This, then, is salvation, when we marvel at the beauty of created things and praise the beautiful providence of their Creator,” wrote Meister Eckhart.

Contemplating beauty is not a nominal pleasure for idle days. It is an essential pursuit for our survival. Discovering our true nature is key to caring for the earthy home we share with all earth creatures. Together we—humans and the more-than-humans–are the divine revelation of Godself.

See Matthew Fox, Naming the Unnameable: 89 Wonderful and Useful Names for God…Including the Unnameable God, 56f. #40, God Is Beauty, pp 56-57

Lectio Divina

Lectio Divina, or “Divine Reading,” is the ancient practice of meditatively and prayerfully reading the words of Scripture or other sacred texts, asking Spirit what your proper response might be to the truths they lay bare.

In this spirit, take a phrase or word from this meditation and be still with it, letting it wash over you and through and through you.  Repeat it as a mantra.  Be with the silence that follows.  Be with, be with…. 

Recommended Reading

Too often, notions of God have been used as a means to control and to promote a narrow worldview.  In Naming the Unnameable, renowned theologian and author Matthew Fox ignites our imaginations by offering a colorful range of Divine Names gathered from scientists and poets and mystics past and present, inviting us to always begin where true spirituality begins: from experience.

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7 thoughts on “Pope Francis’ Encyclical “Laudato Si,” Mother Earth and Her Beauty”

  1. Avatar

    These days I find myself imaging “God” as an energy field of Love. For decades it consoled me to think of “Him” as a Person but now that feels like an anthropocentric projection.

    1. Gail Ransom

      Thank you, Bill, for your comment. I believe you are not alone in this evolution of your image of God. Perhaps the interplay between different faith traditions that happens more often in our shrinking world has helped to open our minds. Thanks for the reminder that you, and many of us, are making great strides in our sense of the sacred.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team

  2. Avatar

    I visualize god as a verb word, or energy, if you like. But so difficult to discuss something knowable, yet unknowable.

    1. Gail Ransom

      Dear Kirsten, Thank you for your thoughts. It indeed is not possible to find one word or image to describe God, the “knowable, yet unknowable”. We mortals fall short every time. In Matthew’s book. Naming the Unnameable, 89 Wonderful and Useful Names for God, you will find many descriptions that play with your concept of God – many seeming complete until you read the next one. (I’m speaking from experience here.) Number 21 is “God as Energy” in which you will read, “God is the unstoppable energy of all beings, a boundless source which cannot be slowed down or ultimately overcome. Energy upon energy. Energy within energy.

  3. Avatar

    The Sufi Invocation begins with: “In the One, the perfection of Love, Harmony and Beauty. the only Being…”

    1. Gail Ransom

      Dear Charles, Thank you for sharing the beginning of the Sufi invocation with us. As this pluralistic world brings all of our traditions into closer contact, how edifying it is to see how much we share. God is love. God is beauty. God is harmony. May we all appreciate what we share more than how we differ!

  4. Gail Ransom

    Dear Ron, Are cyborgs more than human? Since their parts are made by humans, they might better be considered a human sub-set instead. And yet, the incredible human capacities that were used to create together could mean that they are more than one human, the work of several humans through the divine gifts of curiosity, imagination, intelligence, and creativity. In this meditation, more-than-human similarly takes us beyond our individual attributes and reminds us that there are collective capacities in a species. We are part of the larger spiritual community that is Creation and connected as Earth creatures in so many ways, physically and spiritually. Walk down a busy street, contemplate a forest, send up a cheer with your friends, stroke the fur of a pet, feel the wind lap around your body, and you can experience yourself as more-than-human.

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