I was drawn to a reflection on Laudato Si’ by Eric Jensen, a Jesuit, who calls on some interesting Ignatian insights to talk about the invitation to a conversion that lies at the heart of the encyclical. He suggests that one may have either a religious or a moral conversion that leads to a renewed relationship with the earth. Beginning with a religious conversion, we are drawn to an awareness of a loving creator who cares passionately about all created life and from there to a change of heart about how we then relate to (rather than use) the other parts of God’s creation. Beginning from a moral conversion, which may be the norm for most people in this part of the world, it is also possible that a care for – a love for – the earth may move us to a desire for the Source of life, the source of beauty.
Of course, Jesuits are well-versed in the movements of heart that are involved in a conversion. The Spiritual Exercises are, above all, a path of conversion. They begin with a ‘diagnosis’ of our situation, which is precisely what the Jesuit Pope does in Laudato Si’, for clear discernment of what is true is the necessary precondition for a change of heart. In naming the specific challenges of our ecological crisis, the skills and insights of science are indispensable. I am struck by how much of this thinking is present in the writing of William Johnston SJ, whose work I am researching.
In one of his last books, ‘Arise, My Love…’ Johnston also saw the need for many conversions in our current context: a conversion to the body to overcome mind-body dualism that continues to plague so much Western thought; a conversion to the poor in imitation of the Jesus who emptied himself; a conversion to the ‘other’ through dialogue; a conversion of Christians to welcome the insights of all who are passionate for truth through the attentive work of scientific research. All of these changes of heart are bound up in the call to conversion in Laudato Si’: our embodied nature as part of an interdependent creation; our embrace of the way of simplicity and our option for the poor as an essential realisation of the true impact of climate change; a deep solidarity with all who share a concern for truth and for the renewal of humanity through faith, compassion and contemplation. The path of conversion is not a discrete religious activity but is a way of life, a way for life.