WelCom News
A newspaper for the Wellington and Palmerston North Catholic Dioceses

The universe story a challenge for the church

Cecily McNeill

Christians need to look beyond the Christian story for ways to address the issue of depleting oil supplies and climate change which will radically change the way we live in the next decades.

Marist Fr Peter Healy who runs seminars on ecological spirituality with Sr Noelene Landrigan rsj, says human history is coming to the end of a phase which some call ‘the petroleum interval’.

In the last 100 years, western economies have driven the whole agricultural industrial system on oil, so that we are actually eating oil – our food is packaged in petroleum products and oil is used to grow food, and transport it. Even the pens we use, the computers, chairs, clothes – they are all plastic or at least synthetic.

‘It’s been a highly extractive, almost plunderous period on the planet.’

The process of extracting oil and then burning it to make gas which then rises to thicken the ‘greenhouse layer’, has made the planet into a hothouse particularly over the last 80 years.

Once the supply of oil peaks, as it did in Texas in the 1980s, it declines quite quickly. Middle East oil specialists say the supply of oil from this region will peak in six or seven years and will then start to run out fast.

There is the probability then of more resource wars like the one which began with the American invasion of Iraq.

‘We’re in for some wake-up calls very soon. In the next decade the world will have to completely change the way it operates.’

Peter says we seem to have lost our proper sense of what it is to be a human community on planet earth and our theology, which has been of a transcendent and heavenly kind, has not helped.

‘We don’t have an adequate earth theology. If we did the christian community would be leading in the matters of how to live in tune with our planet home.’

What guidance there is in the Christian story needs to be seen in a much larger context. ‘I don’t think the Christian community really knows what to do [or] is saying anything more profound than any other community.’

One of the challenges for us all is in knowing how to remain hopeful in the midst of some gloomy future scenarios.

The seminars which Peter Healy and Noelene Landrigan run look beyond the Christian story into the universe story which began about 13.7 billion years ago.

‘What we do is tell the universe story – we look at life on the planet in its largest context. We are here as humans on this planet with all the other diversity of life and we are here as a result of an enormously awesome, long and deep story called the universe story.

This new context helps people to see that we’re here as the result of a process and as participants in something which is profoundly sacred.

‘One of the lovely flow-on effects that comes from looking at the universe story, the earth story and the human story is the very easy connection between that story and what we need to do – all the questions about sustainability have an easy flow out of that story. You suddenly see your place.

‘When the christian story finds its place within the larger story of the cosmos we will find our place in the larger scheme of things and we will know what to do for the troubles of the world. That’s the challenge for the christian community. There’s a challenge for reframing Christology too.’