Ecological Examen

Think of one gift you delighted in receiving.  Perhaps it was a piece of clothing, or jewelry, or art.  Maybe it was something your child or friend had made, or an heirloom passed on to you by a dear grandparent.  Whatever it is, picture it now and remember the moment you received it.  See the person who gave you this special gift.  Bring their face to mind. 

Now imagine the look on their face as they watch you take their gift and flush it down the toilet or smash it with a hammer.  Hold that image.Source:

Jog your memory again.  Recall the excitement you felt about giving someone you love something very special.  Remember how anxious you were that this important person like your gift.  Imagine him or her taking this object of your affection and throwing it into the trashcan right in front of your eyes.  What emotions go through you.

Now you have a tiny inkling of how God the Creator looks and feels everyday.  The air we breath, the food we eat, the land we inhabit, the animals who are our neighbors, the electricity we use, the gasoline we burn, the metals, stone, glass and plastics that fill our  lives are all gifts from God. 

Do we treat accordingly?  Or do we offend the giver by abusing the gifts?  How must the Creator of the earth feel when he sees how unhappy we are with what we receive?  If everyone on this planet lived like North Americans, consuming and disposing as we do here, human beings would need the equivalent of five planet earths just to keep up.  Rather than “thank you” we repeatedly say “is that all?”

We are going to assess our relationship with God, Giver and Creator, by examining how we receive the gifts of creation.  To do this, we have to remember that everything we see, touch, taste and smell is part of creation.  Oaks and pines, wheat and wine, wolves and walruses, human beings, cell phones, condominiums, all these are creatures.

Before modern chemistry and physics, people used to think that every creature was a different combination of four basic elements: fire, earth, air and water.  How do we receive these elemental gifts in our private and societal lives today?


Life began in water.  In begins ever anew in the water of wombs and eggs.  Despite the equation of water and life, nearly 800 million people lack adequate drinking water.  We use water not only when we turn the tap or flush the toilet, but every time we buy something.  Every product needs water to be made and transported.  

For example, it takes 15 000 liters of water to produce 1 kilogram of beef and every one liter of bottled water requires 3 liters of water in production.  So even if Canada is blessed with an abundance of fresh water, our consumption of imported goods contributes to water scarcity around the world.  How do I conserve, protect and share water?  Am I grateful for life?  If yes, then how can I take water for granted?


Where would we be without land?  Our food, our homes, our clothes and our fuel all come from the land.  It supports us constantly.  Do we respect it reciprocally?  Consider what we eat, or more significantly, what we do not eat.  Nearly half of all food produced in Canada ends up wasted before tasted.  Canadian households discard 25% of the food they purchase.  Producing all that wasted food adds substantially to the soil erosion, pollution and deforestation committed by industrial agriculture. 

How I treat my food is how I treat my home.  Do I take more than I can eat?  How well do I know the land supporting me.  How often do I get out to walk with and listen to the geography where I live?


Nothing is more communal that breathing.  The ver particles that were in your lungs a minute ago could enter my lungs any moment.  We are always drinking from the same airy cup.  And not just we humans, but all animals, insects, plants. 

What do I bring to this universal neighborhood?  Human consumption of fossil fuels has greatly devalued this neighborhood.  Besides dirtying the air, our greenhouses gases have made it warmer and wetter, inducing more storms, floods and landslides.  Do I put my convenience and comfort ahead of the safety and stability of the atmospheric neighborhood?  Do I experience my need to breathe as an individual right or a common responsibility?


Warmth and light!  The gifts of fire are so dear to us the we keep them in our hearts and our minds.  Most Canadians receive these gifts today not from the hearth but rather from the wall socket.  We plug in to draw out all the benefits of electricity.  But every switch we flip or button we press means that somewhere energy is being generated and degraded. 

Am I aware that my use of power here disempowers another environment somewhere else?  Whether it is nuclear waste, flooded valleys behind a dam or carbon emissions from coal and gas, most of my modern “fire” burns places I do not see.  Do I close my eyes and take the warmth and light blindly?  Is my use of electricity gentle and enlightened, or dark and heavy?

Greg Kennedy, SJ works as a spiritual director at the Ignatius Jesuit Centre in Guelph, Ontario. He is author of Reupholstered Psalms volumes I, II, and III; and Amazing Friendships between Animals and Saints (Novalis Press).

  • Frank Richardson
    Posted at 22:25h, 08 April Reply

    What is rarely mentioned is that coal, oil and gas is fossilised sunshine, never to be repeated. Photosynthesis over more recent times gives us a newer source of stored sunshine to use for heat

Post A Comment

Subscribe to igNation

Subscribe to receive our latest articles delivered right to your inbox!