A Poet Reads Laudato Si. by Caroline Knowles of the Interfaith Council, shared at our recent event on the Pope’s new Encyclical, Laudato Si, Care for our Common Home.
I have imagined a man who would not wear red shoes—and asked us all to pray for him.
He put on an old pair of black lace-up shoes, and went walking about in the world
and going up and down.
He had walked all the way to the edge of the city where the land runs out to the sea,
when the Earth his Sister grabbed him by the ankles.
“Listen,” she said, “I am your home. I gave you air!
It was clear and sweet.
See what’s happened to the air!”
He struggled with her, he bent down and got his shoes off and wriggled his feet to break her grip but still she would not let him go.
He looked around and saw the city’s air laden with choking gases, and heard the children gasp for what once was air. It was high noon, yet a swirling darkness cloaked the streets and alleys in a stinking fog that daylight could scarcely penetrate.
He remembered that earth was given as a garden. and once, bright day had followed night.
His bare feet sank into the soil. The Earth his Sister crouched there still, firmly grasping his feet. She wouldn’t let him go.
“I eased your thirst, from the deep springs
I used to force upward, even in my deserts,
to bring the land into bloom.
Now, you’ve fractured bedrock, filthying the source.
My rivers satisfied the thirst of fields—
they were your passage through a fruitful world.
Then you threw the rubbish of your lives
into my lakes and rivers.
Reach down, now, and taste me!”
He bent and dipped his fingers into the turgid trickle of a stream
at his feet. It carried waste, it swept up filth, it pulsed with chemicals that kill.
He could not drink, he couldn’t bring his fingers near his lips. Around him now, he heard the poor who longed for water— he saw them drink the slime—and all about him rose the cries of wasted infants.
He remembered pure and precious streams once fed the garden where all life began.
The Earth his Sister now let go of his ankles but then she grabbed him by his knees.
“Look,” she said, “from my body sprang the trees.
They fed the air and beckoned down the rain,
and held my soil from crumbling into dust.
To keep all life in balance, I stored such trees as died
and rotted, deep beneath the soil and rock,
and this kept all my creatures safe.
What have you done to the trees?”
He looked about, and saw the hills denuded, brown and dry. He saw the clear-cut tracts of barren land that once were woods. A storm of dust whirled round him, tearing at his eyes.
He remembered how the trees had birthed our air and spread the ground beneath with fruit and seeds that fed all that was living.
He might have fallen on his knees but the Earth his Sister rose up from her crouch and raising him, she held him by his arms, lifted his hands, and turned his palms upward to the sun.
“Feel this!” she said, “I warmed you with my Brother Sun,
you used what was needed, and I sent his heat
back into space. Then, in just one hundred of your years,
you’ve drawn across the sky
an impenetrable web of gas
that will not let heat pass. My fields
that fed the goat, the locust, the meadow lark and sparrow,
are burnt with drought, and wild fires
blast what’s left of forests. This overheated air
with each breath burns the poor, the old, the ill.
My overheated seas are acid now, and the coral’s bleached.
And I have lost the fish who played and fed
between the coral’s branches.
See this smooth stone, here at the margin of the sea—
nothing can cool it. Try if you can touch it.”
The smooth stone she showed him he dared not touch—it would have burned his fingers.
She let him go then, and, his arms still raised, he recoiled at the scorching heat of the sun and nothing fresh in all the air could cool him.
He remembered the cold brooks of the Alps that tumbled down the trails from glaciers, and the chill winds off the Piz Palu sparkling white as diamonds in the sun.
The Earth his Sister rose then and stretched herself along the horizon, and wove herself into the hills and eased herself into a soft mist over the valleys, but she murmured before she left his sight:
“Each creature underneath the waves,
dolphins, crabs and sea anemones,
all creatures walking on the land,
leopards, oxen, lemurs, serpents,
all winged sky-borne beings,
dragon flies and falcons,
born of the womb of this universe
were given as a gift
and found their home in me.
Each one, like you, is star-dust pulsing into life.
You are their steward.
Listen with your heart, put out your hand
and save what now you can.”
His arms, his ankles now were free. He knelt and dried his feet, drew on his worn black shoes and tied the laces. Then began his journey forward:
to challenge the seats of power,
upbraid the averted faces of rulers and kings
and confront the fortresses of greed.
I pray for him.