Seeds of Peace: Thomas Merton’s Ecological and Peacemaking Consciousness

This article, by Susan Francois, CSJP, was published in the inaugural issue of Theophilus. Susan is a Sister of St. Joseph of Peace.  She a Bernardin Scholar and Maters of Arts in Theology candidate at the Catholic Theological Union, specializing in Ethics and Spirituality. Her previous ministries have included social justice education and advocacy and local government administration.
 

The ecological conscience is also essentially a peacemaking conscience.” These are the words of the 20th Century American Trappist monk Thomas Merton, from a book review he wrote just months before his death in December 1968. While Merton is well known for his spiritual writings on a variety of topics, including peace and nonviolence, he never published a major work on ecology. However, recent scholarship has highlighted his evolving ecological consciousness, sprinkled throughout his writings, in particular towards the end of his life.

Like Merton, my own religious community, the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace (CSJP), has recognized the connection between the ecological and peacemaking conscience. We recognize that “[w]e live in a society marked strongly by the violence of war, violence to people through poverty and a sense of powerlessness and alienation, violence to earth, sea and sky—violence that is truly cosmic.” At our 21st General Chapter in 2008, we adopted two Chapter acts, both under the theme of “Seeds of Peace,” that continue to guide our efforts to develop this ecological and peacemaking conscience. The first Seed of Peace Chapter Act is a commitment to growing in nonviolence. The second is a commitment to care for creation and respond to the crisis of climate change. Our Seeds of Peace commitments call us to deepen our CSJP spirituality of peace regarding care of creation.

This paper will consult Merton’s own writing and recent scholarly research to survey and explore the evolution of his ecological conscience and spirituality, particularly in the last six years of his life after his encounter with Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring.  His ecological spirituality will be discussed in dialogue with his spirituality of peace in the context of the moral and spiritual crisis of the nuclear age. The present ecological crisis and my own religious congregation will also serve as conversation partners to consider how the writings of this 20th Century contemplative might be a resource for 21st Century Christians seeking to integrate spirituality with ecological concerns in the midst of our own moral and spiritual crisis and the urgency of human-induced global climate change.

Click here to continue reading Sr. Susan’s article!

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