Pope Francis is making news by acknowledging that climate change is an urgent situation we must all face. The bigger breakthrough that news stations and bloggers are missing altogether is the way the encyclical, and thus the Pope, personifies the Earth. The Earth is called “Mother Earth,” “sister”, and “she”. I don’t know enough about the Catholic church to know if it is standard procedure to speak of the Earth in this way at the highest levels in a worldwide edict (please use the comments below to fill me in if it is), but, regardless of precedence, I am awestruck to hear of “her”, our planet, spoken of as a living, breathing being by arguably one of the biggest patriarchies in the world.

To understand the gravity of this announcement for those of us in love with the divine feminine and speaking out on her behalf, here is a quote from the first line of the encyclical:

Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. ‘Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth’… We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.

I sometimes wonder if my voice speaking this simple truth is lost in the crowd. I sometimes wish I could have a flashier message. Doing what I can to speak on behalf of the spirit in animals and nature has humbled me tremendously. So often the response I receive is that the marriage of spirituality and ecology is a sweet fantasy. Many seem to see it as quaint, like the whims of a flower child born of the hippie movement despite the fact this passion in me was born of my independent research started in the 1980’s on the destruction of our environment .

Many of us have endeavored for years now to express how critical this remarriage of the soul and nature is to the health of humanity. It is the centerpiece of my life’s work and I am making great sacrifices to further this message in the world. So, please forgive me if in this moment all I can do is reveal in an overwhelming sense of gratitude. I know the evils of the Catholic church. I understand that Pope Francis has opinions on other matters that rival my own, but in this moment all of that falls away.

This is how the love of the Mother works. It takes precedence over everything else and Pope Francis gets this. He also clearly comprehends the enormity of the suffering we have caused.

He writes, “This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will… This is why the earth herself… is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor.

Just reading that line, “the earth herself is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor,” breaks my heart open again. It breaks my heart open and simultaneously  I can know at the core of my being that she is powerful beyond all measure. As it is with many mystical truths, these two faces of the Mother reside side by side. They call this divine paradox.

Then, finally the words to explain why I left the scientific field and life as an animal rescuer to adopt the mantle of shamanic practitioner comes from the most unexpected of places, the Catholic church.

Pope Francis says of his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, that, “‘He would call creatures, no matter how small, by the name of ‘brother’ or ‘sister’’. Such a conviction cannot be written off as naive romanticism, for it affects the choices which determine our behaviour. If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously.

The “naive romanticism” is exactly the projection I have been challenged with and been humbled by. As I appear on dozens of radio shows, presentations and book signings I have to remain with my simple message and stay passionate about it no matter how much my ego calls for something that will dazzle the audience. It is such a simple truth, that all beings are our brothers and sisters and the Earth is our Mother. They are, as many Native American tribes say, “All our relations”.

This simple truth can be easily glossed over and not allowed to affect our choices and determine our behavior. This is the case when the truth is taken literally rather than symbolically. That is what makes our environmental crisis a spiritual crisis. We’ve forgotten that our connection to all that is is a spiritual connection. It is sometimes the simplest truth taken into our soul that moves mountains. This is a mountain moving.

Pope Francis dedicates the third section of the first chapter of the encyclical entirely to the “Loss of Biodiversity”. This has been THE main suffering of the world in my heart since childhood and is the reason why I initially worked hands-on to help save endangered species, but even the pope understands that this direct intervention is not enough.

We must direct our faith to matters of ecology.

We have to open our hearts to our brothers and sisters. It is time we wake up to the spiritual path and realize we are not on it alone, our brother the wind and sister the Earth walk it too. The fate of our brother the bluebird and sister the robin is intertwined with our own. It is not an easy path to walk awake. It is painful and disheartening at times. It can feel utterly hopeless, but that is precisely why the marriage of heaven and earth must be fostered within us all.

And from the encyclical, a prayer in aid of the marriage:

Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.”

To read the entire, official English translation of the Laudato si’: On Care for Our Common Home encyclical from Pope Francis go here: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html


About Author, Stacey L. L. Couch

Stacey Couch shamanic practitionerStacey L. L. Couch, Certified Shamanic Practitioner, works as a publicist and journalist for Mother Nature and is the author of Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks. She empowers people with the ability to explore life’s big questions by calling on nature, story and synchronicity as a source for guidance and healing. With her deeply rooted experience in the field of shamanism and passion for working with wildlife and rescue animals, Stacey has a unique blend of rational and mystical perspective that makes the world of shamanism easily accessible to others. She values mindfulness, wonder, and compassion in her daily spiritual practice. Learn More about Stacey.