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Monday, 18 November 2013 12:46

Community

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Our value as humans derives from our being part of planetary creation. Mercy Sister Patricia Powell reflects on this shift in our understanding of community and what it means to belong to the community of all being.

Probably few people are as conscious of community as Religious. We chose to live in community. We have debated what an authentic expression of community might look like. We live in a particular local community. We are members of the Catholic/Christian community. Theologian and philosopher, Bernard Lonergan defines community as “not just a number of people [sic] within a geographical frontier. It is an achievement of common meaning.” He identifies as “markers” for community: common experience, common understanding, common judgements, common decisions and commitments. (Method in Theology p79)

Like so much in our reality, community here refers to communities of the human species – communities formed by beings with self-reflective consciousness. It is that same capacity to reflect consciously on our reality, which has now enabled us to experience the insight that we are part of a planetary community: the community of all being. The markers for this community are somewhat different from the markers Lonergan identifies for human community.

Common Origin
The first marker for the community of all being is our common origin. We live in an unfolding universe that has its origins in a single flaring forth of tremendous energy, heat and light. Just as in the human embryo in the moment of conception, all the potential of a human person exists, so also in the original flaring forth, all the potential for all there is now existed. It has been a long journey from the fireball or “big bang” to us – some 13.7 billion years at the last estimate. But we would not be here, if everything that happened in between, had not occurred. 

Inter-relatedness
The second marker for the community of all being derives from the first. Everything in the universe is related to everything else. The earliest particles like quarks and leptons, protons and neutrons, and atoms like hydrogen and helium are found throughout the universe. Scientists have even been able to detect and measure background radiation left over from the “big bang”. The elements of the periodic table, like hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, sulfur, and selenium are found in all matter, including our bodies.
Other heavier metals were crafted in the star factories we call galaxies, where stars like our sun are born, burn brilliantly for a while and die in massive supernova explosions, releasing second generation stars and elements like beryllium, magnesium, calcium, strontium, barium and radium. We can truly say we are made of stardust!

The molecules of water in our bodies are the same molecules that are in the oceans, the rivers, the glacial ice. The air we breathe was once breathed by Jesus and Julius Caesar. The chlorophyll molecule that enables plants to capture light for food is a first cousin of the molecule in our retina, which enables our eye to capture light for vision. We owe our evolved skeletal structure to the vertebrates, and our very existence to the little mammals, who got their chance to thrive when the reign of the dinosaurs ended. The DNA molecules in our genome are shared by other plants and animals, with slight variations that account for our differences from each other. Our DNA is ninety-eight per cent identical to that of the chimpanzee.

Interdependence
The third marker for the community of all being is our interdependence. We depend on other plants and animals to take up the vitamins and nutrients we need from the soil. We breathe in the oxygen that trees release and breathe out the carbon dioxide that plants need. The tiny sliver of sun that touches the earth each day is responsible for keeping the whole earth enterprise going. It is obvious that we depend on others in the human community for the goods and care that enable us to live. But we also depend on innumerable plants and animals as part of our chain of being. Now we are beginning to realise that they too, depend on us – the species that has taken over the habitats of all other species – for their survival. Indeed the future of the human species is intimately and integrally tied up with the future of the other life forms and life support systems of the planet. 

All things in Christ
The fourth marker for the community of all being situates this community, in the context of Christian faith, within the Kingdom of God – now and not yet. All of creation (Gk “kosmon” and “ktisei” meaning “cosmos”) is involved in the redemptive action of Jesus. Mk 16:15, Col 1:15-16, Rom 8:22 & 29 all have references to all creation or the cosmos – not only human beings - as being destined for restoration in Christ.

With the call of the Church to ecological conversion, the mercy, justice and charity we have poured out on the human species, is now expanded to comprehensive compassion – a compassion that embraces the whole of creation. It is no longer viable to see ourselves as somehow separate from, over against, superior to or having a mandate to dominate and exploit creation merely for human ends. All creation has its own intrinsic value.

Indeed, our value as humans derives, in the first instance, from our being part of creation. This is the shift in consciousness about “community” that on-going revelation/insight invites us to receive and live. This is our motivation for being amazed and grateful for the wonders of creation, and for being committed to addressing the destruction of species and the degradation of the planet that we witness in our time.

Patricia Powell rsm is a founding member and former Director of Rahamim Ecological Learning Community. Rahamim Inc. is a ministry of the Institute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia and Papua New Guinea (ISMAPNG), located in Bathurst. It situates our traditional Mercy human ministries within the context of a new relationship with all of creation, in a spirit of Mercy. You may contact Sr Patricia through the Rahamim Ecological Learning Community.

This article appeared in the September 2013 edition of just Mercy, the online newsletter of the Institute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia and Papua New Guinea (ISMAPNG). Photo of Sr Patricia courtesy of ISMAPNG.