By Sister Sharon Havelak, OSF
“A frog does not drink up the pond it lives in.”
(Proverb, variously attributed to Peru, Native Americans and China)
Special elections usually get little attention.
That’s not the case with Toledo’s special election coming up next Tuesday. There are two hot issues on the ballot – the site for a new jail and a bill of rights for Lake Erie. Both have stirred up a bit of controversy; the Lake Erie Bill of Rights has even received some national attention.
While the initiative seeks to ensure the “right to a healthy environment for the residents of Toledo,” it also seeks to establish “irrevocable rights for the Lake Erie ecosystem to exist, flourish and naturally evolve.” Everyone would agree that a healthy lake would be advantageous for residents of northwest Ohio. The idea that a lake could – or should – have the same rights as a person is a little more difficult to swallow, for some.
As a Catholic and as a Franciscan, I can see some principles of our faith that would lean in that direction. In the Genesis story, God gives us dominion over the Earth, to cultivate and protect it. In their 2001 document, Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence and the Common Good, the US Catholic Bishops stress that our response to climate change is not just about economics or politics; fundamentally, it’s about the future of the gift of God’s creation. We have a responsibility for protecting both the human environment and the natural environment, with an eye to future generations. In his encyclical, Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home, Pope Francis urges us to a “sublime communion” with the created world, so deep that we feel the pain of the Earth’s problems as our own.
Certainly St. Francis of Assisi saw an intrinsic, intimate relationship between God and creation, both human and non-human. Everything created was embraced as a gift of God; everything reflected God; everything led Francis back to God. Everything is sacred.
The need to develop a deeper, more spiritual relationship with the Earth has been echoed by environmental lawyer Gus Speth. He challenges us: “I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation.”
Perhaps it is, indeed, time for us to step up and come to know Lake Erie as our Sister Water, to acknowledge her right to be clean and fresh and abundant, to be her voice for her protection. Being green is a Franciscan thing. Being green is a good thing. But we don’t need those very green algal blooms!