A Reflection on Ask the Beasts
A few years ago a juvenile red-tailed hawk was injured while flying into an electrical line. It died of starvation. I searched and found it under a tree. I stroked its beautiful feathers, and cried. I mourned the loss of such a majestic bird. We mourn the loss of our favorite dog or cat. Do we also mourn the loss of the wild animals that are affected by habitat degradation in the ecological crisis of our age?
Do we mourn the losses the natural world will experience?
In November 2018, the U. S. government released the National Climate Assessment, which predicts catastrophic changes in our country by the end of this century because of climate change. Among other things it says there will be an almost 10 percent loss to the American economy, three times as much loss as during the Great Depression. As much as we may bemoan this possible economic loss for the poor, do we also mourn the losses the natural world will experience? How do we deal with these possible losses now and in the future? How do we do it?
Author Henry David Thoreau worked through his loss for the death of his brother in writing A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. Through writing his mourning awakened in him a clearer perception of the natural world and an appreciation of sunlight on tree leaves and the rivers. By working through his grief in writing Thoreau gained an understanding of the need to attend to the natural world in the present. He dealt with his loss by turning to the natural world, to the community of life.
Loving, mourning in the community of life
In her Ask the Beasts Elizabeth Johnson tells us to ask the beasts, our kin the animals, what love and mourning mean in the community of life. If we mourn the loss of our pets, do we also mourn the loss of animals, birds, reptiles and amphibians as a result of degraded habitats? Or do we worry only about economic losses that affect the poor and displaced? We can mourn both because all belong to the community of creation.
If we mourn the loss of the beasts in this ecological crisis of climate change, we can develop a deeper appreciation of this community of life in the present moment. For Thoreau it led to a time at Walden Pond. For Johnson, it was Ask the Beasts. For us as Loretto mourning can lead us to contemplation and action, to act for justice on behalf of our kin.
Besides our own personal and Community actions we can collaborate with other organizations to prevent climate change and ecological degradation. We can write our elected officials, urging them to address the National Climate Assessment. To care for the natural world now we can support organizations such as Friends of the Earth and the Worldwide Wildlife Federation. Closer to home we can care for the habitats of the natural world on our own Loretto Motherhouse land.
If we have doubts about what we can do, ask the beasts.