Reconciliation with creation isn’t just about changing the way our society uses resources and impacts on the environment. It’s also about reconsidering how we live in the world and relate to each other as individuals.
Last year I got married. After some searching, my partner and I were lucky to be able to purchase a house in the northern fringes of Melbourne. Given my offices are in Richmond, for me that meant I had a 1.5 hour commute, each way, each day.
I was used to sitting in traffic. Financial constraints, and the need to be close to friends and family, means I’ve mostly lived a long way from where I’ve worked. But this was almost doubling the time I’d be spending in traffic each day.
Over the next month or so, the long hours sitting in my car began to have more of an effect on me. I’d be constantly annoyed by other cars ‘cheating’ by going around the traffic rather than waiting their turn. I’d try to prevent those cars from merging back in, ending up with angry looks and beeps from those drivers. I’d have other drivers try to prevent me from changing lanes, and get angry with them. By the time I got to work, or got home, I’d be exhausted by what felt like a constant battle on the roads. And I found that anger would rise up in my every time I got behind a wheel – not just on those mornings, but on nights and weekends as well.
It was too much. I talked about how it was affecting me in my Christian Life Community group (a group of people I meet with fortnightly for prayer and reflection). That same night, our group had a discussion about the Rosary, and the ways that we pray it. I started wondering if I might pray the Rosary while I drove to work. Could it help me change the way I experienced traffic and how I treated other drivers?
I started to pray each day. I’d wait until the traffic started to get bad, then I’d turn the radio down and begin, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven…’. I used my fingers on the steering wheel to count the prayers and the decades. The long trip meant that I’d easily get through ten decades, so I’d often keep praying more until I got to work.
It didn’t always stop my anger from rising up. More than once I’d find myself getting frustrated, and even swearing, at another driver while in the middle of a ‘Hail Mary’. I’d add on a couple of extra Hail Marys to make up for it. But it helped me find a calmer place in the traffic.
After a few weeks of praying the Rosary, I had an accident on the way to work. A car came out of nowhere and hit me as I was turning. No one was injured, but my car was a write-off.
Strangely, rather than get angry at the accident, I felt a sense of relief. Losing my car meant I’d need to catch public transport to work every day. It meant I was free from the roads.
I’ve often encountered the idea of God answering our prayers in ways we don’t expect, but this is one of the first time’s it’s happened for me in such a dramatic way. For two months, I prayed for relief from the traffic, for God to help me cope with the three-hour commute to work each day. I was hoping for a greater feeling of peace as I sat there not moving, but what I was given was a more peaceful way to go about my life.
Ironically, catching the train to work each day takes about the same time as driving my car. But at least 45 minutes of that time is spent walking between the station and my office. Instead of getting to work angry and frustrated, I get to work feeling refreshed. Instead of seeing my fellow commuters as obstacles or competitors, I can see them as they go about their lives – reading, talking to each other. Instead of feeling trapped in a box, I feel more connected to the world and the environment around me.
In Advent this year our daily Gospel reflections at Pray.com.au are focusing on our relationship with creation, and Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’. It’s easy sometimes to look at these issues in impersonal terms, focusing on our society’s reliance on fossil fuels, the way we consume resources, and the impact of our activities on the natural environment. These are important, but Laudato Si’ also speaks of how the way we live has a human cost in the way we see and treat other people.
‘There can be no ecology without an appropriate anthropology’, Pope Francis writes. ‘When the human person is considered as simply one being among others… then our overall sense of responsibility wanes.’ (He also notes elsewhere how systems of transport ‘are often a source of much suffering for those who use them’).
Eight months (and many cold winter mornings) later, and I’m still catching public transport every day. I feel my life is more calm now than it was before. The fact that catching public transport is also much better for our city, and our environment, is a bonus. Rather than helping me better cope with being trapped by our modern life in places that make me miserable, I’ve realised that God’s answer to my prayers involves radically transforming my life in a way frees me to be a better person.
This experience has shown me that caring for creation isn’t something we do because we feel a sense of responsibility for our world. It’s a transformation that we’re called to make because it makes us more human. Laudato Si’ is more than a social program for society. It’s a call for us to consider what it means to be human beings in relationship with God, each other and creation.
Follow our Season of Creation Advent daily prayers at www.pray.com.au starting 3 December 2017.