In response to Pope Francis’ recent encyclical Laudato Si, beautifully summarized by Don Mulcare in a recent Catholic Writers Guild blog post, linked here, I was thinking about American surfer Bethany Hamilton.
What made me think of her, a young woman who lost an arm in a shark attack, while she was surfing?
More remarkable to me than her spunk in getting back into the water–still surfing despite having lost one arm–is her reaction to the environmental circumstances which changed her life.
To the surprise of many admirers, Ms. Hamilton did not strive, literally or figuratively, to strike back at the offending shark, and all his kind. She did not use her celebrity status and public sympathy for her loss to rally support for an all-out- shark-eradication campaign, as many (putting themselves in her position, I suppose) imagined she might.
That’s precisely why I thought of Bethany Hamilton in view of the Holy Father’s letter about the repercussions of human interaction with the environment.
Rather than resenting the shark who chewed off her arm, Ms. Hamilton respectfully and humbly defended him, explaining that she was the interloper in his environment. Like any territory-invaded animal, the shark did what was natural to him—he struck out at a perceived enemy. She bears him no hatred; wishes him and his species no harm.
Simple cause and effect. Simple law of nature. Swim where sharks live, and it could cost you an arm.
Creation is God’s gift for us to steward—not to abuse or to destroy. The Holy Father is calling us to greater accountability, as we fulfill our stewardship responsibilities toward the environment. How we interact with the environment matters, not only to the environment, but to human beings–near and far.
God’s creation is interconnected. Whether we surf with sharks or not, we need to respect the power of the environment to sustain or destroy life. Whether we know it or see it or not, all of humanity is at risk when some of humanity’s everyday consumer choices have detrimental effects on the environment, potentially triggering a deleterious chain reaction of events, events we might not have intended to trigger. But, unintentional or not, we do set them into motion, nonetheless.
Ms. Hamilton knows the personal risks involved in surfing when entering into sharks’ home territory.
As our shared home, we need to become better educated to the environmental risks we are entering into. By God’s Grace, as stewards of God’s Creation, humans might be “in control” of nature–but within limits. No matter how smart or technologically advanced, humans are stewards, not masters. We cannot defy God’s laws of nature without repercussions. Go into the water where sharks swim and you run the risk of losing a limb.
The Holy Father is warning us of far-reaching environmental risks and dangers that, unheeded and unaddressed, will make shark attacks look like pesky mosquito bites.
In what shark-infested waters of egotistical consumerism are we, individually and as nation, swimming?
In what other waters do we need to swim, do you think?