The O’Shaughnessy Auditorium was filled on Friday September 25 with St. Kate’s students, staff and faculty, friends and alumnae. They all gathered to commemorate a distinguished individual, Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, Ph.D.
The call to celebration was in light of the annual Myser Initiative on Catholic Identity lecture, at which Johnson was the key speaker. In its ninth year, the Myser Initiative is a St. Kate’s tradition courtesy of the endowment in place from alumnae Patricia O’Conner Myser and her husband John. This award aims to recognize those who exemplify values and leadership in reflection of the Catholic identity.
“Elizabeth Johnson is a woman of wisdom and great knowledge…a witness of an ever-present, living God,” said Amata Miller, IHM and Director of the Myser Initiative.
Johnson’s lecture was titled “Is God’s Charity Broad Enough for Bears?” where she referenced ecological problems that are becoming more and more frequent as the human race develops. She further discussed how biology and genetic history explain why we, as humans and as spiritual individuals, must reflect on our species as part of a larger ecological community in order to un-do environmental damage.
“Our planet is our home…it is extraordinary place for an array of life,” Johnson said. She further quoted Pope Francis saying, “We are all part of one splendid universal common.”
Human ties to the environment date back thousands of years. For example, Native Americans would hunt for food in the wilderness, but pray to the deer beforehand to thank them for their sacrifice. In addition, Darwin described the evolution of ourselves and other organisms since the beginning with time in his book On the Origin of Species. Johnson explained that these dwindling traditions and disregard for our common ancestors is destroying our community with the natural world in which we are a part of.
“We are inflicting suffering of conscious creatures so we can have our BBQ,” Johnson said. She continued to discuss her belief that the amount and way in which we get our food is out of proportion and unethical.
Johnson spoke specifically about God and how He is in solidarity with all creatures; therefore, we should love all creatures and our environment as we love God.
Despite being rooted in Christian theology, the lecture can be applied to those who do not have similar religious affiliations in that we are all connected parts within the tree of life.
“Even those who do not believe in God at all but believe solely in evolutionism can still come away from this lecture reflecting on the connection between humanity and the rest of the living world, as well as what that means for our sense of ecological responsibility,” said Lesley Haberman ’17, Women and International Development major.
“We do not stand alone,” Johnson said. “Evolution puts us in tight biological connection with the whole tree of life, and we do not possess a definite identity without the natural world.”
In order to combat ecological injustice, Johnson proposed a conversion for humans to live our lives with intellectual, emotional and practical intent.
Intellectual conversion envelops a new theology for humans where we are not the center, but, instead, a small piece of a vast ecological community. This perspective makes everything within nature equal rather than hierarchical.
Emotional conversion occurs when we experience compassion and wonder for other creatures because they are different. We must experience grief when we feel loss, consecutive with gratitude for what still works.
In a practical sense, we must all encompass moral considerations in all aspects of our daily lives and begin to understand how our doings are affecting our ecological community. This could be as simple as recycling or not buying products from corporations that look the other way in regards to environmental pollution.
The lecture ended with a question and answer session where audience members were encouraged to give Johnson input as well as clarify any questions. Singer/songwriter Sara Thompson closed the evening with a Blessing Song in which the audience participated.
Johnson left the audience with a large smile, inviting everyone to “Go and do.”