This will be the first of a series of blogs that I will be posting on Pope Francis’ Encyclical, Laudato Si. The illness my daughter Tanis suffers due to a cancer of the blood, offers a striking metaphor for what is happening to our earth. A walk which I created, consisting of five stations, provides the setting for the teachings of Laudato Si, as placed in the metaphor of Tanis’ illness.
Tanis and My Laudato Si Walk
My adult daughter Tanis has Multiple Myeloma, a cancer of the blood which attacks the bone marrow. About five years ago and after she learned of the cancer diagnosis, she received a stem cell transplant. She embraced the medical treatment with valor, followed by determinedly searching for every healthy practice she could find. The treatments allowed her to continue in her usual animated and capable way as wife, mother, friend and teacher, at least for several years. All seemed under control until June, 2016 when her femur bone broke unexpectedly after simply walking down the sidewalk; a tumor had weakened the bone. There is no cure for Multiple Myeloma and inevitably, the beast returns. Since then she has been assaulted by one disturbing difficulty after another. Even as she has been recovering from the broken bone, Tanis has had to deal with fever, fatigue and ongoing colds, coughs, and headaches related to lesions pressing on her brain. All this is due to her compromised immune system and the chemotherapy treatments she has been undergoing. Tanis also, and routinely, struggles with nausea that often results in frequent and violent vomiting. Recently, she broke her collar bone, a result of the invasive cancer. For the past five months, Tanis has spent much time in three different hospitals, with occasional respite at home. Her husband, children, relatives, friends and colleagues continue to support her in any and every way possible. Tanis and all those who love and support her are so grateful for the medical personnel who visit her regularly, address her condition with the most advanced technology available, and always ministered with the utmost of compassion and medical expertise.
Tanis’ condition and the suffering that she and her family bear each day impact me deeply. During the course of her struggles and because I was preparing a talk on the environment based on Laudato Si, Pope Francis’ Encyclical on the environment, I came to see that Tanis’ story is strikingly analogous to what is happening to our planet. In order to make something positive out of her devastating tragedy, I asked Tanis if she would be willing to allow her experience to be used to bring attention to the care everyone must give to life, to our common home. So under her approval, I gratefully and reverently continue…
Our planet, due to certain cultural developments, is experiencing a cancerous attack. She, too, has a rising fever, one posing a serious threat to life on earth. The earth’s inhabitants are well aware of grave weather upheavals in the form of more frequent hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes. Just as my daughter lost her hair during chemotherapy treatments, so has our common home been transformed with deforested landscapes, the disappearance of coral reefs, rising sea levels and even the loss of native prairie grassland and habitat.
How do people respond to the current situation? It seems that most people you talk to have a sense that there is a problem, that the earth is telling us we need to live differently. But the truth is that we can find obstructionists, people taking aggressive action against such concerns because of the material loss they would suffer if social and economic norms would change. As well there are those who are indifferent or not informed at all about the urgency of the situation.
In May, 2015, Pope Francis weighed in on the environmental and social crisis, with the intention of using his Office to inspire and educate, hoping to wake the world up to impending diasters. His Encyclical letter entitled Laudato Si identifies ‘lack of identity’ (not knowing self) as the underlying cause for the grim state of our planet. He offers St. Francis of Assisi as a model for humankind to emulate in these challenging times; St. Francis understood that love of God, love of nature and the poor were intertwined, they formed an unbreakable bond.
What do you do when a person’s mind is unknowingly but stubbornly holding onto harmful ways of thinking, unable to change itself to be what the world really needs it to be? As I became absorbed in my preparations, it became clear to me that Pope Francis’ Encyclical offers the goal for our thinking, the vision and an approach capable of helping the world come to the place it needs to be. As well, an idea kept jumping out. There is power in a walk and repetition, why not utilize both to help address thinking that is stuck in unhelpful ways? I decided to create a walk with a specific number of stations in which the contents of each station would be drawn from Laudato Si. Repeating the circuit of the walk over and over again would serve to unscramble emotions and thinking, educate and reform, bringing the participant to the place where new and forward-looking actions would be possible.
During its development, I repeated the walk regularly because the structure and repetition began to offer a measure of perspective and healing. In all, I covered over 800 miles. What I will be sharing with you is a highly personal and environmentally sensitive narrative which should be helpful for those willing to examine their own thinking. Some readers, when the blogs have been concluded, might even play with the idea of creating their own five stationed walk.
Next blog Jan. 18th, Overview of Laudato Si and the five stationed walk, plus station #1