In today’s Gospel, Jesus instructs us that, in order to enter the kingdom of God, we must become like children.
What relevance do these instructions have for us today, when, as the recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change affirmed, human activity is causing the dramatic warming of our atmosphere and rapid deterioration of our planetary life systems? How might the ways of children—those who have most recently emerged into the web of life—reveal something to us about kinship in the Anthropocene?
One of my greatest lessons in kinship came from a two-year-old boy named Luc. On a blustery day near his home in Vermont, I suggested to Luc that perhaps the wind rustling through the trees’ leaves was in fact the trees’ way of showing their appreciation for him, each gust its own standing ovation. As the trees erupted into another round of applause, Luc danced and reveled in this celebration being held in his honor. In Luc’s innocence, it was easy for him to imagine that the trees were invested in his well being. Furthermore, he had no trouble entertaining the idea that he was worth celebrating. In other words, he had not yet learned the falsity that he was separate from creation, nor that he was unworthy of love and belonging.
Kinship in this era of unfathomable loss and unraveling requires prophetic clamoring for the kinds of large-scale societal transformations that are necessary for preserving an inhabitable planet for children like Luc. It requires our resistance to the widespread culture of death that would deny the reality of our kinship. It also asks that we begin living with the kind of joy and reverence that such a miracle as our interconnected web of life—and, moreover, our participation in it—merits. This is where I think Jesus’s instructions come in handy: kids have a way of intuitively understanding what it means to be a part of the web of life. When I try to touch into my own sense of kinship with creation, I often draw on memories from my childhood, digging in the dirt or ambling through the woods, back when my sense of where I ended and nature began was less defined.
In a society that profits from our self-doubt, we are called to practice radical trust that we are not only enough, but worthy of celebration. We are a gift to the world, and, through blessed interconnection, the whole web of life benefits when we show up with love. As we consider how we can care for creation, may we also stop to revel in the many ways, marvelous and miraculous, that we are cared for by creation. It is from this place—as whole persons moving toward trust in our worthiness, in our belonging in the web of life, and in its exuberant generosity—that we might begin to restore right relationship with creation, and perhaps even find joy along the way.
Anna Robertson is director of youth and young adult mobilization for Catholic Climate Covenant. She is a writer, musician, yoga aficionado, and outdoor enthusiast with a passion for supporting the emergence of the widespread ecological conversion of hearts called for by Pope Francis in Laudato Si’. Prior to her current role, Anna has planned retreats in college campus ministry, supported families of women experiencing incarceration, studied collective memory in El Salvador, and accompanied college students on international immersion experiences in Latin America. She has her master of theological studies degree from the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry.