Aesthetics as Comprehensive Solution

How can religion and science work together to solve the ecological crisis? According to Pope Francis, a dialogue between religion and science is necessary to grasp the ultimate meaning and purpose of things.

It cannot be maintained that empirical science provides a complete explanation of life, the interplay of all creatures and the whole of reality. This would be to breach the limits imposed by its own methodology. If we reason only within the confines of the latter, little room would be left for aesthetic sensibility, poetry, or even reason’s ability to grasp the ultimate meaning and purpose of things.  (LS 199)

Religion and science both must dialogue to look for a solution to the environmental crisis. Otherwise, there will be little room for an aesthetic sensibility. It is precisely at this aesthetic sensibility that Hispanic theologian Alejandro García-Rivera (1951-2010) was looking in his work when proposing a theological cosmology.  After revising Teilhard de Chardin’s work, García-Rivera proposed a cosmological question from which Teilhard would profit: Where is Jesus now? The answer to this question will bring three new dimensions to Teilhard’s Christology and will let us understand more the role of a theological cosmology in the recovery of the aesthetic value of creation. These three new dimensions are the relevance of the Ascension, the notion of place and the role of beauty.

Following this postulate, García-Rivera turns his reflection to the role of the Holy Spirit in building his theological cosmology.  The fully cosmic Christ is also the Christ who sends the Holy Spirit. The role of the Holy Spirit is not simply to be the ultimate source of the beauty of living forms, but also to be the source of unity between us and their beauty. In doing so, the Holy Spirit shows us the way to our home in the cosmos. Through this understanding of the Holy Spirit’s role, we realize that “we are not simply to enjoy the living forms but also to be formed by their beauty.”

FlowerIdentifying the Holy Spirit as the “one who not only is the ultimate source of beauty of living forms but also the One who unites us to their beauty” helps us to understand stewardship in a new sense.  The stewardship of creation made us realize that we are formed by the same beauty of the living forms.  This is how stewardship must understand. In this sense, stewardship is a process that involved both “gift and giving, creating and appreciating.”

In the final chapter of Laudato Si’, Pope Francis makes clear that just as the problem is comprehensive, so must be the solution. A new aspect of Christian spiritual formation must occur, one based not on the materialist paradigm, but on the awareness of the spiritual connections among all aspects of the created world: “Environmental education should facilitate making the leap toward the transcendent which gives ecological ethics its deepest meaning” (LS 210); in other words, the process must entail the kind of “profound inner conversion” toward gratitude and generosity that we see in St. Francis of Assisi (LS 217-20).

One of the most profound and moving aspects of Laudato Sí is that Pope Francis’ voice is not one crying in the wilderness; in fact, he joins a growing call from people of all faiths, and of no religious faith, to re-evaluate our distorted commitment to “techonology über alles” and a materialistic worldview, and embrace a vision of reality, the breathtaking interdependence of all that is. Voices such as David Seidenberg (Jewish), David Loy (Zen), Will Tuttle (Buddhist, vegan), the aforementioned Alejandro García-Rivera, and of course Pope Francis, may be a minority in literal numbers. The swelling cascade of calls, however, to challenge the culturally inherited technocratic and dominance paradigm suggests to many of us that we are reaching a tipping point.  May we soon collectively turn from this deathly pattern and toward a paradigm of transformation by grace into the image and likeness of God, of the generosity that is the only legitimate response to the privilege of existing as a part of this stunningly beautiful world. And as Pope Francis encourages, “Let us sing as we go” (LS 244).

Nelson Araque teaches History of Latino Catholics in the Ministry to Latino Catholics Certificate Program and Pamela Hedrick teaches Sacred Scripture and spirituality for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

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