Okay, that’s too general a statement. Let’s just take some of the poets in the special issue of Image (#85) on “Evolution and the Imago Dei.” (And since Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Sì came out nearly the same time as Image, I hear the Pope conversing with the poets.)
Poet Pattiann Rogers has for decades traced the minutiae of a natural world alive in unexpected ways. I reach for her collection Song of the World Becoming whenever I want to be drawn afresh into nature’s secret life. Here in Image, in “The Moss Method,” it’s the wondrous protective quality of mosses that Rogers burrows her language into.
They can soothe the knife-edges of stones
with frothy leaf by leaf of gray-green life
and burned-ground mosses cover destruction,
charred stumps, trees felled and blackened.
Cosmopolitan mosses likewise salve
sidewalk cracks, crumbling walls.…
I believe they could comfort the world
with their ministries.
As the moss “soothes” and “salves,” Rogers caresses the moss in its multiple forms and ministries.
“The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God.” — Laudato Sì ¶84
One by one leaves spindle in the wind,
the clock runs down, the cricket’s
chirr continues. Each year I try
to catch the moment the chirring ceases
and silence takes on its winter timbre.
Each year I miss…
Margaret Gibson, here in “Middle Distance, Morning,” muses on her tenuous relation to a natural world that keeps eluding her. Yet,
…no, I’m not lonely,…not
in the midst of all my relations,
as an old woman called the living world
“In this universe, shaped by open and intercommunicating systems, we can discern countless forms of relationship and participation. This leads us to think of the whole as open to God’s transcendence, within which it develops. Faith allows us to interpret the meaning and the mysterious beauty of what is unfolding.” Laudato Sì ¶79
“Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another.” Laudato Sì ¶42
Kathleen Housley’s dependence on other living creatures, in “The Microbiome and the Boson,” actually defines her essence, which is a “consortium” of “mitochondria.” Playing on Psalm 39’s “I am fearfully and wonderfully made,” she writes: “I am fearfully and wonderfully provisional.”
“Provisional” because life’s web is never fixed or final. “The Spirit of God has filled the universe with possibilities and therefore, from the very heart of things, something new can always emerge.” Laudato Sì ¶80
“The world… is a web of relationships. Creatures tend towards God, and in turn it is proper to every living being to tend towards other things, so that throughout the universe we can find any number of constant and secretly interwoven relationships.” Laudato Sì ¶240
Watch how Richard Chess images these “interwoven relationships” in “When God Dreamed Eve through Adam.” Adam’s very language, on first seeing Eve, embraces—even emerges from—the newly created universe:
to appraise her with the mind of sun,
the heart of moon, to praise her
With the applause of leaves bestirred,
to seduce her with the iridescence
of lizard skin, to navigate into the current of her
And be powered and transported like a fish
through a diaphanous river’s shadow and light,
to know her with every cell, every molecule, all
The atoms and elements that spun into this inception—
with all creation pulsing
in his temples…
With all creation pulsing in his temples, in our temples, how can we let ourselves inflict harm on the created world? This isn’t where Richard Chess is going. But it’s where the Pope goes:
“Since everything is closely interrelated, and today’s problems call for a vision capable of taking into account every aspect of the global crisis, I suggest that we now consider some elements of an integral ecology.” Laudato Sì ¶137
Integral. Web. Interrelated. These terms for the interconnectedness within all of nature first entered popular discourse with Rachel Carson’s classic 1962 book Silent Spring:
“The earth’s vegetation is part of a web of life in which there are intimate and essential relations between plants and animals.” The “balance of nature” is “a complex, precise, and highly integrated system of relationships between living things which cannot safely be ignored any more than the law of gravity can be defied with impunity by a man perched on the edge of a cliff.”
Pope Francis’s vision carries on Carson’s: “We are free to apply our intelligence towards things evolving positively—or towards adding new ills, new causes of suffering and real setbacks.” Laudato Sì ¶79
“The continued acceleration of changes affecting humanity and the planet is coupled today with a more intensified pace of life and work which might be called ‘rapidification.’ Although change is part of the working of complex systems, the speed with which human activity has developed contrasts with the naturally slow pace of biological evolution. Moreover, the goals of this rapid and constant change are not necessarily geared to the common good… Change is something desirable, yet it becomes a source of anxiety when it causes harm to the world…” Laudato Sì ¶18
Evolution implies time. Here, Pope Francis is concerned about a human-caused speeding up of the time that the natural world “naturally” takes for change. In “Return to the Beginning,” Jeanne Murray Walker plays with another distortion of time: running it backwards.
The scrambled eggs, already fried and fragrant
on a plate, slip back into their shells…
The house remembers when it was imagined…
who honked across this troubled sky last fall,
welcome back! This chance to undo it all.
Walker knows she’s playing with the impossible: the “chance to undo it all.” But in real life, in the reality of the natural world, we have no chance to undo whatever harm we’ve inflicted. Or do we?
Peggy Rosenthal is director of Poetry Retreats and writes widely on poetry as a spiritual resource. Her books include Praying through Poetry: Hope for Violent Times (Franciscan Media) and The Poets’ Jesus (Oxford). See Amazon for full list. She also teaches an online course, “Poetry as a Spiritual Practice,” through Image’s Glen Online program.