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A Love that Lights the Whole Sky

Posted on June 1, 2021, by Jessie Rathburn CoL

The “Laudato Si’” Action Platform’s seven focus areas
Used by permission of Leadership Conference of Women Religious

Late on a February evening, while attending yet another webinar on how people of faith can respond to the climate crisis, I was startled out of my Zoom stupor. For many, the silver lining of COVID has been the knowledge that Earth has experienced a brief respite. Minimal traveling, production of material goods halted for months, wildlife rewilding human-dominated spaces … However, Bill McKibben was not celebrating. Rather, he noted that the interesting thing is not that emissions decreased during 2020, but how little they decreased, even when the world as we know it came to a standstill. In 2020, global greenhouse gas emissions (ghg) only lowered by 6.4%. To limit global warming to 1.5 C, we must reduce global emissions by 7.6% annually through 2030. My heart began pounding and my mind raced as, once again, I was overwhelmed by the enormity of climate change: How do we respond? What can we actually do that will make any difference? In short, I let fear overtake me.

My reaction that night was not unique for it mirrors the questions I hear most often. Our fears about climate change, about the unknowns of what is coming, arise for good reason! Yet, staying in the space of feeling overwhelmed hasn’t helped us, and it hasn’t helped Earth. As Pope Francis wrote in his encyclical “Laudato Si’,“ Rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.” What if every time we considered our individual and communal responses to climate change, we contemplated how to cultivate active love? Instead of thinking about what we will lose, perhaps this question could guide us: What would we gain if we lived deeply into our love for Earth?

Everywhere I turn, I hear about the power of people of faith to bring about change. Eighty-four percent of the global population identifies as people of faith — 84%! We are part of a global movement that has a powerful voice and can mobilize efforts to bring about tremendous change, rooted in love, not fear. So, what do we do?

Over the past year, I have been talking with Loretto Community members, the Motherhouse Coordinating Board and the Forum about engaging in this process of ecological conversion through individual change, communal (institutional) change, and by advocating for systemic change. While we have taken many steps in the past and will continue on this trajectory as a Community, we also have a new opportunity to journey with others.

Starting in May and continuing through October, we will see the unveiling of the Laudato Si’ Action Platform, an initiative designed to deepen global solidarity as we take practical steps to live more fully into ecological conversion. See more at https://laudatosiactionplatform.org.

As we consider when the Loretto Community might begin this seven-year journey, let us also consider the following: Who might be interested in journeying with us? The platform is open to individuals, families, schools, parishes, religious communities and more. In the fall, I will be partnering with Chris Mattingly (Motherhouse Infirmary, Pastoral Care) to share what we’ve learned with the Loretto Community and any staff, Circle members, students or friends who want to journey with us.

In the meantime, we continue deepening our commitment to mitigate significantly our impact on climate change and ecological degradation. In 2021, we will assess Loretto Motherhouse ghg emissions for the first time. This baseline measurement will help us understand the effect of the changes we’ve already made and guide us in making reasonable projections about potential future changes. In the fall, we’ll offer workshops for any individuals or families who also want to measure their own ghg emissions.

We are in a moment of tremendous consciousness raising, poised for a massive societal shift. As we consider what we want our role to be in that change, let us ground ourselves more deeply in our love for Earth and for each other. As the Sufi poet Hafiz wrote, “Even after all this time, the Sun never says to the Earth, ‘You owe me.’ Look what happens with a love like that; it lights the whole sky.”


Jessie Rathburn CoL

Currently serving as Loretto’s Earth Education and Advocacy Coordinator, Jessie Rathburn spends much of her time outside – gardening, hiking, birding, and learning more about the local central Kentucky bioregion. Her background also includes English and writing instruction and operating an urban farm.
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