Utility vs. Communion: Receiving the Gift of Creation

In the beginning

There is a certain futility in the efforts being made–truly sincere, dedicated, and intelligent efforts–to remedy our environmental devastation simply by activating renewable sources of energy and by reducing the deleterious impact of the industrial world. The difficulty is that the natural world is seen primarily for human use, not as a mode of sacred presence primarily to be communed with in wonder and beauty and intimacy. In our present attitude the natural world remains a commodity to be bought and sold, not a sacred reality to be venerated. The deep psychic change needed to withdraw us from the fascination of the industrial world, and the deceptive gifts it gives us, is too difficult for simply the avoidance of its difficulties or the attractions of its benefits. Eventually only our sense of the sacred will save us.

From Thomas Berry’s Foreword to When the Trees Say Nothing: Writings on Nature by Thomas Merton, edited by Kathleen Deignan

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Berry’s read of the West’s environmental conversation as we normally have it is devastating in its accuracy: talk of renewable resources and conservation is the other side of the coin from talk of our “right” to use the earth however we see fit. The question we ask in both cases–although we have differing answers–is ever, “How much can we take? How much can we use?” and never, “In what ways might we grow in loving relationship with the rest of Creation?”

For Christians–in particular those who wish to emphasize the gift of the earth to humankind in the beginning of Genesis–the challenge is to show our thankfulness for God’s very good gifts. We as recipients need to recognize that the Creation is not an object or a thing. A pet given to a child is not a thing the child can do with whatever she pleases, and a pet given to a child is a poor metaphor for how God has placed the earth and its creatures in our care.

This gift is not a thing or an object, and it’s not even a mere place. God’s good gift is a home and a family. (This particular home is even part of the family!) And the gifts of home and family are (as anyone who lacks either can tell you) not for utility but for communion.

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