By Sister Sarita Vasquez
The Sisters of Mercy work to sustain all life by caring for Earth. In our dedication to discovering God in all things, we recognize the ecological spirituality that ties us to the beauty of creation.
As we celebrate the eighth anniversary of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’, I am reminded of a book I read at the height of the pandemic, An Astonishing Secret by Daniel O’Learly.
In the introduction, it says:
“Of the many urgent spiritual, ecological and theological themes, this book focuses on one in particular – Creation and Incarnation: a deeper understanding of the closeness of a God who carefully fashioned us… The Pope is deeply concerned that we understand something of the new meaning of the Incarnation story. He also knows that the more we grow to love our gracious Earth the more anxious we will be to reverence and protect our natural environment and to bring compassion, peace, freedom and justice to all who are living here. This is a central theme in his encyclical Laudato Si’.”
As I read the book, I became more aware of the Incarnation happening all around me. Everyone everywhere was revealing the face of God: the person with whom I was speaking, my dog as she welcomed me home, the ladybug crawling on the bush, the cloud drifting across the sky, the light of day, the dark of night, the immensity of the sea, the quiet leaf.
I looked for the Word made flesh in the news of the war in Ukraine, the home invasion, the search for the missing loved one. I came to a deeper understanding that “Whichever way you turn there is the face of God.” (Quran, 2:115). How lightly I must tread this earth where everywhere the Word is made flesh. How respectfully I must encounter the other who brings God nearby.
Because of the impact of the book, I decided to create a weekend of prayer which I named “Whichever Way I Turn There Is the Face of God.” This ecological retreat was held on March 17-19, 2023, at Our Lady of Guadalupe Mercy Center in Belize City. The goal was to grasp the closeness, unity and intimacy between the Creator and all Creation.
During the weekend I gave few presentations, allowing the prayers to speak to the theme instead. Some ideas came from Michael Morwood’s book, Praying A New Story, where he writes, “We must take into account all of creation and all human beings when we speak of God being present and active. Such an inclusive understanding has the capacity to heal, educate, and transform the human community.”
We chose Christmas cards with scenes of the Nativity from the prayer table and proclaimed, “The Word was made flesh and lived among us.” Then we crossed our arms over our chests and said aloud, “The Word is made flesh and lives in and through me.” We sat on the verandas and gazed at trees, grass, iguanas, sky, birds, sea, passing vehicles and persons and remembered “Whichever way I turn there is the face of God.”
We listened to the Prologue of John’s Gospel and asked that Christ, our holy fire, remain among us. We allowed John Philip Newell’s chant, “Whichever Way You Turn,” to sing in our hearts. With Jan Novotka’s music and words we praised “the Holy hidden in all things, and begged for mercy for water spoiled, habitats destroyed, air unsafe to breathe, and a poisoned world.”
We brought the weekend to a close promising that “In this holy place where we stand, we proclaim to live for all — loving life, healing Earth, dreaming dreams, embracing all in our hearts and hands.”
I close with the comments of one of the retreatants: “Most helpful were the prayers in the booklet. They opened my heart and my mind to God’s presence in all Creation and to areas where I never thought of going.”