Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Agony OF the Garden (Part 1): You can hear the earth breath.

A Reaction to "St. Paul and the Groaning of Creation" - A Theological-Ecological Approach

 By Abercio V. Rotor, Ph.D.
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You can hear the earth breath, old folks used to tell us kids. We believed them.  

It was part of our belief and culture on the farm. In some unspoiled landscape. On a patch of Eden, in romantic parlance. Being keen and observant about nature’s ways is as natural as being a farmhand, taking the carabao to the pasture – and back after school before sunset.
 Saul falls on Damascus Road, mural by the author, former St Paul Museum QC 
Or flying kites at harvest time.  We would stay late after the Angelus keeping company  with the harvesters building haystacks (mandala) or gleaning some panicles strewn on the field. Then we would go home keeping our cadence with the breathing earth.  A skink dashes here, the bamboo grove creaks in the slightest breeze, a gecko lizard makes a sonorous call.    The crickets are happiest in summer.  The fowls roost on their favorite tree, synchronized by the drooping of Acacia leaves.  Soon fireflies become visible. They light our path inside our pocket.  It is picturesque of the Gleaners of Millet or Wheatfield of Van Gogh.  The rustic paintings of rural life by our national artist, Fernando Amorsolo Harvest time .

When we were kids the “sound of creation” was a beautiful one.  It was a sound of sigh, of relief, of contentment. It goes with kind words, meekness, and joy. Sometimes it breaks into laughter and peals of thunder.  
Wheatfield by Vincent Van Gogh 
After harvest the earth takes a break. The bounty we get becomes “Santa Gracia” of the family. Like the body, the field takes a rest we call fallowing. Energy is recharged at the end of a cycle in order to prepare for the next one.

Summer wears off easily. The rain comes. And we kids would run into the rain, sans fear, sans anything.  It was pure joy. Soon the earth is green once more.  And this is the way our world goes round and around, ad infinitum.  
Harvest time by Fernando Amorsolo 
You can hear the earth under your feet. But it’s a different sound now. It is groaning. It is the sound of pain, of distress, of agony. It is a different scenario.  It’s the opposite.

This is the scenario presented in Sister Bernardita Dianzon’s paper and pictured in the CBCP’s report. It would be painful for one who had lived with the art of Amorsolo or the naturalism of Darwin to see eroded mountains, bald hills, silted waterways, and dried up river beds.  And to live with polluted air, accumulating doses of pesticide, mutated pathogens, genetically engineering food we call Frankenfood. To live in the confines of a world of computers. And rigid institutions.  Yet lose our sense of permanence.  Where is home?  What is the essence of who we are and why we are here?.

Who are we? The paper asks. Where is the humane in human, the kindness  in humankind?   Being in human being? Humanus in Humanity? 

This is the groaning of  creation, a sound that disturbs our sleep. That calls, Don’t go gentle into that good night. Which takes us to the letter of Paul which in part says, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now.” (Rom 8:22)

Paul was the best authority in his time to raise such issue, having traveled far and wide on three continents – Europe, Asia and Africa –  practically the whole world then. He must have traced some routes of Alexander the Great in his conquest from Macedonia to India and back 500 years earlier.  He knew well the Persian Empire – the biggest empire the world had seen, bigger than the Roman Empire in the height of its power.  He must have known the uniqueness of different cultures – including the barbaric tribes - the Vikings, Ostrogoths Visigoth, the Saxons, Angles, and even the dominance of the Khans of China and Mongolia. He knew the strengths and weaknesses of leaders like Xerxes, Darius, Hannibal. 

And the declining power of Rome then.  It was when the northern provinces including England were ceding from the centralized authority – All roads lead to Rome.  Rome had grown too big, the Dinosaur Syndrome was creeping in.  Paul knew when to strike with “a book and a sword.”  The message is clear and firm:  To spread Christianity and defend it.  He was a general, and a general again in the name of Christianity.

Creation to Paul is a holistic one – the biological and physical world, the forest and valley, the rivers and the seas, the land on which humanity was born and being nurtured.  The society man built and continues to build.  The culture that shares his society.  The commonalities and differences of people - their achievements, goals and aspirations.

Paul was a realist, with  supreme military background. Thus he was also a strategist, fearless, adventurous.      

Yet the inner man – the Little Prince in him, to recall Saint-Exupery’s famous novel of the same title – is a gentle kind, hopeful and patient. Which makes him an paragon  of change -  persuasive, sincere, and selfless.

I can imagine Paul’s concept and description of  creation.  First he referred to “a creation  associated with labor pain.” The giving forth of new life. The birth of a baby.  The germination of a seed.  The metamorphosis of a butterfly. The rise of a new island. The formation of a valley. The growth of a mountain.  Of a new river or a delta.
The sun is born everyday.  Buds are born in spring.  The desert suddenly blooms after an occasional rain. The fields ripen in summer. Even a volcano erupts and enriches the soil in its surroundings.  And there are creatures born with some difficulty.  But it is a groan of joy.  It is a groan of self fulfillment and victory.  It is a groan of happiness which at the end is shared by many.   
Paul and the burning of Rome mural by the author, former St Paul Museum QC  
But why did Paul express frustration on the same subject of creation?  

Paul expressed frustration as a result of man’s disobedience.  “Cursed in the ground because of you.” He said and pointed at man with a warning of Armageddon, “ … you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

But Paul also saw renewal in man’s sinful ways.  He too, was once sinful. But on one dark night on the road to Damascus he changed, a 360-degree turn. His enemies became not only his friends – he became their protector.  And helped preserve and nurture their new faith, increased their numbers even through extreme danger and sacrifice. He was leading them to a new Paradise. The Paradise of Salvation.

We have to understand that, on the viewpoint of both faith and history.  The “loss of Paradise” comes in three phases in the short history of humankind.  The first was when man left the confines of a lush greenery described as a rainforest where he had practically everything for his biological needs and comfort, but it was the dawning of his intellect. Scientists and historians compare  the Africa before and the Africa of today – the shifting of that great forest cover to a grassland where game animals roamed, and finally becoming into a  dry land  – the great Sahara desert – shaping man as Homo sapiens and hunter-gatherer, a life  he followed through many generations, and until now for some cultures.  Until the second loss of that Paradise came once more.  

Again the groaning of creation.

As man formed societies, so with different cultures shaped by each.  Cultures united and cultures clashed because of the conflict of interests, of trade and commerce, of thoughts and ideas. Leading to deeper conflict, this time in politics and religion.  This is the scenario in which Paul founded his mission. The renewal of a paradise of unity and harmony by embracing a common faith – Christianity.  It is Paradise Regained later epitomized by John Milton - the same author of Paradise Lost which he wrote before he lost his eyesight.

Religious wars fallowed after Paul had done his mission.  More people were killed in those religious wars between Christians and non-Christian than all the other wars of history combined. For more than 1000 years the world remained in a state of torpor.  The Dark Ages or Middle Ages was a long period of constant fighting, the Roman Empire fell and dissolved into fiefs and small kingdoms fantasized in love stories, fairy tales and children’s books.

Again the groaning of creation.

Paul must have dreamt of the Renaissance though distant it would happen.  And it did in the 15th century.  The Renaissance was the crowing glory of the church. The Renaissance is the story of the Church.  It was Paradise Regained Part 2. West met East, but it was not on mutual terms.  Europe invaded and conquered the East, the Orient.  A new era was born – colonization. The ideology of conquest and colonization is clearly biased on the part of the invader and master.  The conquered were made to appear as barbarians and were doomed unless they submit to a foreign master and a foreign god.  Rizal’s books clearly pictured the lives of Filipinos under SpainHawaii, a novel by James Micheners projects a worse scenario. The colonizers were self anointed masters of the world and of god.   

For us in the Philippines as in most colonized countries, we remained subjects of Spain for almost 400 years.  India was colonized by England; Indonesia by the Dutch; Indo-China by the French, and so on down the line.  Practically all countries in Africa and South America. Asia and the Pacific became colonies and the natives were “living in hell,” as some historians recall, the slavery of mostly Negroes in the US, notwithstanding.  It was Paradise Lost to these countries ruled by the so-called “civilized” masters.

Again the groaning of creation.

Colonialism ended towards the end of the 19th century and in the early part of the 20th century.  A new Paradise was born once again – the Age of Nationalism. Liberty, Equality, Fraternity – the trilogy of the French Revolution became the universal cry for Democracy now led by the United States of America.  
Liberty leads the People by Eugene Delacroix
Peace was short-lived.  Two world wars shook mankind in disbelief.  And when the last major conflict ended a new order came out – the Cold War, the polarization of the whole world into two warring camps –  democracy and socialism. If there is a Dark Age here is a Cold War.  Though the latter lasted for 50 years, in both cases, the quality of life was drawn down to a level whereby we ask ourselves, What is rationality?

Again the groaning of Creation. (Continued) 

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