Growing an Ecological Soul with Help from Pope Francis
Patricia Adams Farmer
Many of us non-Catholics are a bit star struck by Pope Francis. He has, after all, startled the whole world by talking about big things like poverty and injustice and ecology at a time when most of the religious world is stuck on sex, sex, sex. Enough with the sex. Let’s move on and think about the planet with Pope Francis.
The planet is huge, reminding us that in order to wrap our minds around it, we may need to actually grow our soul. Those of us in the Fat Soul movement—yes, we are a movement with a Manifesto and everything—would say that Pope Francis is a very Fat Soul. Evidence of this is found in his famous encyclical on ecology, the “Ladato Si,” which has a lot of very thin-thinking Global Warming denier types shaking in their boots. The encyclical has rocked the world, religious and nonreligious alike.
Of course, even the most devoted readers among us may not be up to reading the entire 184-page encyclical, but the Catholic New Service offers its readers a succinct way to understand it and act upon it with five simple ways to adopt an eco-lifestyle. All of us--Catholic or Buddhist, Humanist or Hindu--can, in our own way, join the Pope’s call and, in the process, grow our souls in hope and joy and sense of purpose. Below I state the simple five steps, known as the Laudato Way, seen through the wide-angle lens of Fat Soul philosophy. Imagine that with each step in the Laudato Way, another tree is planted in your soul, making it wider and deeper and greener.
Step I: “Pray for a conversion of heart.” We need to start here, with our own hearts—our own souls. In the Pope’s words,“ The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast” In other words, our souls are truly lacking. Emptiness. Dessert. He paints a stark picture. Perhaps if we planted trees in our souls and watered them with prayer and meditation, we might just rise to what the Pope calls “a summons to profound interior conversion. We need, in his words, “an ecological conversion.” (para. 217) He says that we can start by simply saying a prayer of thanks before we eat to remind ourselves of where the food comes from. He says that such a prayer "strengthens our feeling of gratitude for the gifts of creation; it acknowledges those who by their labours provide us with these goods; and itreaffirms our solidarity with those in greatest need.” (para. 227)
Step 2: “Learn to appreciate beauty.” Beauty is a central feature of Fat Soul philosophy and spirituality. We must expose ourselves--drench ourselves—in the beauty of nature if we are to ever understand that the planet is part of our own soul. The Pope would agree. He says, “By learning to see and appreciate beauty, we learn to reject self-interested pragmatism. If someone has not learned to stop and admire something beautiful, we should not be surprised if he or she treats everything as an object to be used and abused without scruple. If we want to bring about deep change, we need to realize that certain mindsets really do influence our behaviour.” (para. 215)
Step 3: “Practice gratitude and selflessness in the family.”This third step may be the hardest, but it’s crucial for nurturing the soul’s growth. The Pope says that ‘in the family we first learn how to show love and respect for life; we are taught the proper use of things, order and cleanliness, respect for the local ecosystem and care for all creatures. In the family we receive an integral education, which enables us to grow harmoniously in personal maturity. In the family we learn to ask without demanding, to say “thank you” as an expression of genuine gratitude for what we have been given, to control our aggressivity and greed, and to ask forgiveness when we have caused harm. These simple gestures of heartfelt courtesy help to create a culture of shared life and respect for our surroundings.” (para. 213)
Step 4: “Change the way you consume products.”Here the Pope gets radical, which appeals to the Fat Soul in me. The first three steps may sound rather tame, but now he gets us into counter-cultural territory. He says, “A change in lifestyle could bring healthy pressure to bear on those who wield political, economic and social power. This is what consumer movements accomplish by boycotting certain products. They prove successful in changing the way businesses operate, forcing them to consider their environmental footprint and their patterns of production. When social pressure affects their earnings, businesses clearly have to find ways to produce differently. This shows us the great need for a sense of social responsibility on the part of consumers. ‘Purchasing is always a moral–and not simply economic–act’. Today, in a word, ‘the issue of environmental degradation challenges us to examine our lifestyle.’” (para. 206)
Step 5: “Simplify your life—use only what you need.” Continuing down the radical path, the Popedares to question our born-and-bred notions of consumption!This is Fat Soul philosophy at its best, for in the world of Fat Soul, less is more. The distractions of conspicuous consumption leaves the soul wanting. Simplicity makes the soul grow bigger. “In reality," says the Pope, “those who enjoy more and live better each moment are those who have given up dipping here and there, always on the look-out for what they do not have . . ." Even living on little, they can live a lot, above all when they cultivate other pleasures and find satisfaction in fraternal encounters, in service, in developing their gifts, in music and art, in contact with nature, in prayer. Happiness means knowing how to limit some needs which only diminish us, and being open to the many different possibilities which life can offer. (para. 223)
Five steps. Five ways to save the planet--and grow the soul, too. Imagine that you have planted these five trees in your soul, one by one, and vow to water them daily. Wow. If we all did this, think of what could happen on this planet. Think of deserts suddenly filled with rivers of hope, and green trees waving their leafy branches in celebration of the planet. Think of all the roots joyfully intertwining in beauty, meaning, and a sense of purpose . . .
Thank you, Pope Francis, for offering us not only hope, but a way—five ways, in fact—to make it happen. Those of us at Fat Soul International embrace the Ladato Way!