You cannot have healthy people on a sick planet

March 18, 2013
Kiply Lukan Yaworski
Prairie Messenger

Human health depends on the health of the planet, says a theologian who also works as a naturopath and chiropractor.

Dr. Dennis O'Hara said health is more than the absence of disease; it is a state of physical, mental and social well-being, with a spiritual, an environmental and a cosmological dimension.

O'Hara said, "When we talk about the environmental or cosmological dimension of human health, the easiest way to sum it up is a nice pithy phrase of Thomas Berry: 'You cannot have healthy people on a sick planet.'"

The theology professor at St. Michael's College in Toronto spoke Feb. 12 at Queen's House in Saskatoon.

He grounded his reflection about health, faith and the environment in Scripture, the writings of Church fathers, Christian theology and spirituality.

O'Hara emphasized the importance of faith in caring for the environment.

"Understanding creation as a sacred revelation, and the creation story as a sacred story with a destination - a story that is going somewhere" is critical to the health and future of the planet, he maintained.

"We often talk about spirituality as something that holds all of our life together," he noted. "Spirituality provides a horizon of meaning."

O'Hara cited St. Thomas Aquinas' reflection that the great diversity of creation is necessary to adequately represent all the elements of divine goodness.

When humanity acts in ways which destroy diversity, cause extinction or harm the environment, "we are silencing part of that Book of Revelation, we are silencing a voice of the divine," he stressed.

COMMUNION OF SUBJECTS

He presented a video clip in which Berry, a well-known eco-theologian who died in 2009, observes that "the universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects," and proclaims that this is "a world to be venerated, it is a world to be in union with."

Being in right relationship with creation and with the divine order, is precisely our call as Christians, O'Hara stressed.

"We no longer believe that the Earth is the centre of the universe, the only problem is, we still act as if we did." Instead, we must consider how to fulfill God's will for this amazing, vast and ancient universe, he said.

Reawakening to the sacredness of the universe and of the creation dimension of the Christ story helps us to hear the call in Genesis, when the Lord puts creation into the care of human beings.

In the covenant with Noah, God includes all of creation, O'Hara noted. "And why wouldn't God do it that way? Creation itself was an act of love, so why wouldn't all of creation be part of the covenant?"

The loving expression that brought us into existence is the same loving expression that calls us back into oneness with God, O'Hara said, stressing that this sacred story is "going somewhere" - it has a destination.

"We are not yet there, and creation is not yet there. So there are limitations, both in us and in creation. When we understand that we are limited and creation itself is limited, we realize we cannot treat the earth as a limitless resource or a bottomless sink."

O'Hara called for an increase in awareness about the spiritual dimension of health and how human health is inextricably linked to a healthy ecosystem.

He challenged his listeners to celebrate the sacredness of creation, to celebrate our profound link to the sacred story of creation and to respect the purpose of creation - "that it is a meaningful story that will come to complete fulfilment when all of creation is once again reunited with the one who created it."

Even though we are faced with a terrible ecological crisis, we must not lose hope, O'Hara said.

HEROIC RESPONSE

"On the one hand, we could be overwhelmed by that and depressed, but on the other hand we can look at it and say: this is a moment for a heroic response.

"This is an opportunity for us to reinvent ourselves in a way that gets us back into the right order of creation, that aligns us better with that which God asks us to be."