Crossposted from Points of Inflection by John Roe
Hope long deferred makes sick the heart; but a Desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
These words are from the book of Proverbs, though when I read them I always hear echoes of the English mystic Thomas Traherne. They remind us, as Traherne does, of the centrality of longing to authentic humanity. Who we are is constituted, as much as anything, by what we deeply desire; and disordered, unattainable desire leads to a heart sickness that cannot be cured.
In the final chapter of Laudato si, it seems to me that Pope Francis turns his attention to this question of desire. He has reviewed what science has to say; he has brought to the table the witness of Scripture, of the Catholic tradition, of Christians and of people of other faiths (check out his quotation of the Sufi mystic al-Khawai in this chapter); he has discussed possible “lines of approach and action”. In the Pope’s telling of the story, the environmental crisis is ultimately a crisis of relationship. Disordered desire, inflamed by consumerism and selfishness, has severed people’s relationships with the natural world just as it has severed relationships between one person and another. The solution to the environmental crisis, then, will be found in personal transformation, in redirecting desire, not only in some improved technology for “managing” environmental problems. At the beginning of his final chapter, the Pope sets out this thesis very directly. Many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change… A great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge stands before us, and it will demand that we set out on the long path of renewal.