In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis describes an “integral ecology, one which clearly respects its human and social dimensions” LS 137). The human and social dimensions of ecology point to natural sustainability in which human persons are a part of—not apart from, much less above—nature. The encyclical notes that it is not enough to merely live healthy human lives; we are also called to seek lives that are sustainable in relationship with the natural world, lives that are spiritually meaningful and culturally rich. and finally, we are called to seek sustainability and meaning in a way that is equitable for all peoples across the globe, which in turn preserves valuable resources for our children’s children.
One reading of the creation story sees God high above in the heavens, in transcendent glory. Humanity is set as the pinnacle of creation, with a mandate to fill the earth and subdue it. This is a mandate that seems to place human beings apart from and above the rest of creation. In this reading, humans see creation as a thing to be used, and even abused; the innate value and the beauty of each living creature and of all that God has created are subordinate to their utility at the service of human beings and human civilizations.
In contrast, a different reading sees creation as God’s garden, as the outpouring of the heart of our loving God, inviting all creatures into existence and into a loving relationship with the Creator. Pope Francis turns to Ali Al-khawas, a Sufi mystic poet, to help describe the relationship:
The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face. (LS 233)