“The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change. The Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home.”
Pope Francis. Laudato Si, On Care for Our Common Home 2015
Last year, parishioners at St. Dominic’s in San Francisco focused on the concept of intentional discipleship. It was an opportunity to explore what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and to become more intentional in following Him.
We all have barriers and the question is not whether or not we have them but are we willing to seek ways to overcome them. The series presented a way the participants could explore some of the most common barriers present in our own lives and in the lives around us.
The first step for the “intentional seekers” at St. Dominic’s was to examine care for creating. Specific questions that were asked of those engaged with the program included: What is your understanding of care for creation? What is the current state of affairs surrounding care for creation? How is creation linked to our faith? What is the most challenging part of caring for creation?
30. “Even as the quality of available water is constantly diminishing, in some places there is a growing tendency, despite its scarcity, to privatize this resource, turning it into a commodity subject to the laws of the market. Yet access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights. “
In drought stricken California and in light of the powerful encyclical, what does care for creation mean?
For many who live in the Bay Area or larger metropolitan areas, taps still run. But in parts of the Central Valley, water does not always run and this is occurring in those areas where the most underserved of our population live. Several stories over the past few years have highlighted the lack of clean drinking water in the poorest parts, primarily in rural farming areas of the state due to groundwater contamination from agricultural pesticides and runoff from farmland.
Many families in the region spend over 10 percent of their income solely on bottled, drinkable water. At the same time, agriculture is the leading force of the economy in many of these areas and people depend on it for their livelihood.
In September 2012, Governor Brown signed AB685 making California the first state in the nation to legislatively recognize the human right to water. The bill was a small step forward but much more still needs to be done.
Listening to the stories of farmers and residents of the Central Valley and throughout the State is the key to understanding,” describes Michael Smith, Director of Family and Youth Ministry at St. Dominic’s Church in San Francisco. “Hearing where the needs are, hearing the voices is the first step in creating an intentional dialogue.”
The discussion of water rights is a dialogue of the principles of the future: “water is not a resource that should be privatized; it is a part of the community –the universal destination of goods.”
The discussion is critical but the specific question still remains: What can we as individuals do to ensure that justice is achieved, that all have access to water both in our own communities, in our own country and beyond?
Mindfulness is the first step in an intentional journey.
As Shawn Milar, a member of the Care for Creation Ministry of San Carlos Cathedral in Monterey describes, mindfulness is created “when we treat our resources with the utmost of respect.” Day by day we can reduce our use of water whether it is the transformation of water efficient personal gardens and landscapes, fewer laundry and dishwasher loads and shorter showers.
The good news, reminds Milar, is that” success stories are prevalent:” certain communities including Santa Cruz County have reduced water usage by over 36 percent with other counties topping over 30 percent overall usage reduction.
Day to day activities are those first mindful, practical steps of the journey. But the biggest action emerges from a “cultural and value shift,” emphasizes Smith. “It is being aware of where and how our resources are given to us, where they come from.” With this realization, we will then have a sense of “gratitude and awe” as opposed to merely reducing water to a resource. The dialogue transforms into how we become “stewards of the gift” versus “doing chores.”
The second step is to become more involved and aware of politics in the State. By becoming involved, awareness develops of how water is used and distributed. With awareness comes understanding and with understanding, a deeper appreciation of our gifts and “the true sense of awe” as described by Smith.
Small steps like teaching a child how to plant a flower and nourishing it to full growth starts a simple but significant conversation as to where the plant comes from, how life is given to us freely and how these resources are all part of God’s creation.
“Water represents the sacrament of baptism,” reminds Smith. It is a powerful sacramental resource and by reflecting on how the gift is given to us, our appreciation of this precious resource will enable us to become true “stewards of the gift.”