I myself am still learning what it means to care for creation; and it is something that we are all having to relearn as a society searching for sustainability and a new morality that includes the land. With this in mind, I want to share a story that emphasizes A Rocha’s role in this relearning, as we work to bring people back into relationship with the natural world.
An Act of Human Nature
This past fall, A Rocha Ontario hosted a group of recently graduated high school students in three days of hands-on conservation and meaningful discussion on the topic of holistic environmental stewardship. Sharing meals together, we talked about our identity as created beings and our responsibility to care for the earth, and reinforced these themes with related projects such as a plant identification and a day removing invasive species.
Our final discussion had us gathered around a campfire (burning the invasive shrub we had pulled the day before), exploring themes of human flourishing and sacrifice. We had spent the afternoon in the soil, planting native trees and shrubs as a way of giving back and connecting to the earth, but it was our discussion that challenged the group.
This thought gave some context to the scrapes and bruises, dirty hands and sore muscles we sustained from our time identifying plants, pulling up invasives and planting trees. Perhaps this is what it truly means to be human.We read a chapter by Thomas Merton, a trappist monk, who says that all species have inherent value and individual identity; and that all beings flourish when they engage this unique identity. So what makes humans unique? The characteristic that most defines us, according to Merton, is our ability to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of another. All creatures care for their own in some way or another, but human beings have the distinct ability to forego their own desires for the benefit of another species.
There was both a sense of excitement and uneasiness around the fire; some disagreed, some wanted to know more. Introducing these students to a new way of thinking about the world was stretching, but it offered them freedom to explore further. And many of them were eager to continue exploring right away! The license to think outside the box sparked a number of conversations around the fire: Do animals have souls? Does God care about every single blade of grass? Am I personally responsible for the well-being of the earth? It was inspiring to see their brains at work!
To me, this is A Rocha. Experiences that bridge the gap between people and nature to create a more holistic view of the world. One where care for the earth is not a response to human guilt, but an act of human nature. I truly believe that we are meant to interact with and care for the earth, and that this relationship is an important part of what makes us human.
– Ben McCullough, Cedar Haven Site Manager