Who do we need to be in 2021?

By By Mary Pendergast, RSM

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“The great work of our times, I would say, is moving the human community from its present situation as a destructive presence on the planet to a benign or mutually enhancing presence. It’s that simple.” Thomas Berry, CP, The Great Work.

Each of us, in our own way, has been working on making that vision a reality in our own homes, in our local communities and in the larger society since we first grasped its meaning. Our sincere efforts have resulted in hundreds of thousands of actions aimed at both halting destruction and on constructing a way of living in harmony with the natural world. We can look at all that has been accomplished from delaying pipelines, to growing our own food, to cleaning rivers, to demanding action on climate and say, with pride, “good work.”

Is it enough? Today, global pandemic aside, economic disparities widening, can our doing ever be enough?

This New Year, as every New Year before it, comes with both peril and promise. We are called to connect with the transformative power at work in the Universe and to realize that something greater than ourselves is moving through us.

We need to BE. We need to be consciously connected to the Divine within us and to its manifestations in Nature. We need to inquire deeply into the questions of our time and listen to the guidance arising. Who are we? What is our role? What is required of us in our corner of the world? What does it mean to be living at a time of mass extinction? What is the grief that is longing to be felt? Where does it come from? How have we been complicit in the diminishment of the Earth Community? What is our relationship with the web of life? Who are we?

We live in a moment of planetary peril. The period of the full flowering of Earth is over and her health and vitality are on the brink. Nothing this destructive has happened in the last 65 million years, yet much of the general public is not even aware that it is happening!

We have altered the chemistry of the atmosphere, bringing the CO2 levels higher than they have been in 800,000 years. The ocean contains 400 dead zones, an Atlantic garbage patch and a Pacific gyre. We live in the midst of the sixth mass extinction. Heartbreakingly beautiful beings are already gone and will not come back. The World Wildlife Federation reported in September, 2020, that “Animal populations worldwide have declined nearly 70% in just 50 years.” That is in less than two human generations!

So, who do we need to be in 2021 and into this very different future? Since I can really only change my own self, I’ll begin with my own choices. What are my thoughts, words, feelings and actions producing in myself and in the world? Do I cultivate destructive tendencies in myself?

What consumer choices do I make that contribute to destruction? How do I eat? Are my food choices sustainable? What do I wear? Where does it come from and what are the conditions under which is it made? How am I wasteful? In what ways do I confuse my needs with my wants?

What are my habits? Am I honest and truthful? When I examine my mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health, what needs to go, what needs to be added? What am I like inside: am I negative, destructive, angry, or violent in my personal life? How do I treat others, human and non-human? Do I live as if I know that everything is connected to everything else? How do I show that I act in harmony with all creation? Do I cultivate peace in myself and in my immediate environment?

How does my life align with the vision of bringing forth an environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling, and socially just human presence on the planet? Who am I in my inmost being and how is it manifesting itself in the outer world? Do I consciously participate in the transformation of humanity? How aligned am I to Divine Love and to the great teachings, “Do unto others,” “Love your enemy,” “Be compassionate, as your loving God is compassionate”?

We need a strong intention to use the precious opportunity this life offers. We need to enter our lives each day with this sense of expansion. If we allow ourselves to be “used” by our ever compassionate God, and commit ourselves to building a society that reflects and reveres the sacred and interconnected nature of all life, we will draw closer to living in the wholeness of the present moment.

Thomas Merton told us over fifty years ago, “You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.” Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

May your New Year be Blessed!

May we transform ourselves!

May all beings be happy!

Mary Pendergast, RSM is a Sister of Mercy of the Americas. She was a Montessori teacher for many years and the curriculum deepened her love of Earth. A student of cosmology, she studied with Miriam Therese MacGillis, OP at Genesis Farm. As Ecology Director for the Northeast Community of the Sisters of Mercy, she became a facilitator for Awakening the Dreamer, Changing the Dream.