A SOJOURNER’S VIEW: Book Review: The Greening of the Heart – A Journey Towards Ecological Correction By Marjorie J. Guingona, SAC Claretian Communications, Inc., 2021

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 7 October) – This book’s publication has perfect timing, as we just recently finished celebrating the Seasons of Creation which Pope Francis in his 2015 encyclical – Laudato Si! – exhorted all Catholics to celebrate from late September to early October, ending with the feast of St. Francis of Assisi last October 4. We are also approaching the Indigenous Peoples’ Sunday, celebrated by all parishes across the country every second Sunday of October. As a matter of fact, all of October is considered IP month by a number of government, civic and cultural institutions.  And of course, we are in the thick of commemorating the 500th year of the arrival of Christianity in the Philippines.

Yes, The Greening of the Heart – A Journey Towards Ecological Correction is the book to read and popularize this October. In her book, Sr. Marj quotes Albert Einstein’s words: “Be a loner. That gives you time to wonder, to search for the truth. Have holy curiosity. Make your life worth living.” These words fit exactly her life experiences as she travelled from the plains of Nicaragua in Central America to the exact opposite side of the planet – the boondocks of Nanga Nangan, deep in the heart of Tigbao, Zamboanga del Sur.

In one of the essays of this book – The Greening of the Heart – A Journey Towards Ecological Conversion –  she writes that her awakening to the urgency of a vibrant commitment to care for the earth arose as she reflected on Pope Francis’ Laudato Si (On the Care for Our Common Home  -2015), along with other religious while being a missionary in Nicaragua.  Through a missionary journey that had not been planned earlier but which arose out of nowhere,  she found herself in Nanga Nangan where she was caught in the lockdown precisely on the day the announcement was made last March 12, 2020.

That gave her both the space and time to write down these reflections given the invitation to “remain a little while in silence as the months that ensued were precious moments of silence and serenity that seemed like an extended retreat after the month-long solitude and prayer at the Benedictine Monastery in Bukidnon.” The retreat and the long stay in Nanga Nangan then constituted God’s jubilee gift for her as she celebrated twenty-five years of vowed life as a Guardian Angel Sister last September 9, 2020.

With the publication of this book, we are now privileged to be able to share in the fruit of Sr. Marj’s reflections. The reader is invited to come and enter the magical-mystical world of a sojourner engaged in Michel de Certeau’s notion of perpetual departures. For the author is a poet, an artist, a keen observer of both the beauty of humanity and nature and thus could easily enter the world reserved for mystics. This book manifests all of her gifts and we are richer for the experience of journeying with her.

Twelve is the number constituting the essays in this anthology preceded by an Introduction. Taking off from this meaningful numerical figure, these twelve essays traverse across a wide spectrum of life’s realities as well as elements of our faith including: a hidden sanctuary, the wonders of the everyday, walking the path, seeds of the new earth, sparks of new life, treasures in earthen vessels, the fragrance of a mother, nature’s silent wisdom, the altar of the world, the children of a lesser God and a common guest for sacred ground. These are the titles of the essays that the reader will find.

She then exhorts us that: “In our ecological age, we modern humans can learn from them. It is high time for us to revisit their cultures and wisdom traditions and learn from their creative relationship with the natural world, from their sensitivity to the pervasive and numinous presence of the Spirit, and how they see the universe as a communion of subjects and not a collection of objects.” Today, there has arisen a greater appreciation of the value of indigenous knowledge, skills, practices and spirituality. Some of us are just rediscovering the treasure that has been kept hidden for so long but has survived among our IP communities through centuries. But people like Sr. Marj – who have been privileged to live with them – has known this for some time already.

Of special concern to Sr. Marj as she is back immersed among indigenous peoples is her deep concern for their children. She reflected on how the pandemic provided her another opportunity to be with them. “On hindsight, I realized that God’s angels have brought me here and locked me down in this very remote part of southern Philippines for a reason. He has entrusted me with the mission of evangelization and pastoral care of the Christian community and among the Subanen indigenous peoples.”

However in Nanga Nangan, both Subanen and children of Visayan migrant settlers live together, so Sr. Marj found ways to call them to live in harmony with each other, as they respect each other’s differences.” The Subanen and Visayan children have shown that it is possible to attain unity and harmony for they imbue the values of openness, unity, gentleness and compassion that oftentimes we adults find difficult to live out.”

As can be expected, the pandemic cast a long shadow as Sr. Marj wrote the essays that constitute this book. Like many of us, the forced lockdown allowed her to enter into moments of deep reflection as she contemplated her place in this planet in relation to the rest of humanity. A place like Nanga Nangan was ideal for such introspection.

As the world witnessed how this raging storm has created havoc for all of humanity across the globe, Sr. Marj writes that she has “come to terms with how short life is as we recognize our limitations and incompleteness,” thus demanding that “we reach out to one another in order to survive.”  She then offers suggestions – based on her reading from various sources – how we can walk the path that would allow us a commitment to collaborate with each other for the earth’s survival. As an advocate for a healthy living, she suggests the following: drive less, fly less, eat less meat, waste less, skip the disposable dishes, turn off lights and appliances, recycle paper/tin cans/broken electronics, plant trees and support sustainable environmental projects.

Faced with the heavy burdens of dealing with the world’s complex problems let alone the tragic consequences of climate change with the occurrence of unstoppable climatic disasters, there is a temptation for many of us to throw in the towel and to retreat into the safety of our own cocoons and refuse to be involved in any collaborative effort. Refusing to give in to this kind of despair, Sr. Marj points a direction for us to move forward, namely to take the “path of an ongoing conversion of a mutually enhancing Earth-human relation: to a greening of the heart, so to speak, that is, an integral vision of ecology, a recovery of the sense of intimacy, interconnectedness and sacredness of creation; the adaption of the classical virtues of compassion, humility, tenderness, patience and sobriety, a life of solidarity with the suffering peoples and creatures of the Earth community and the conviction that the gift of God’s love will continue to flood our hearts as we await the glorious promise of Christ.

Sr. Marj calls on all of us to join her in this journey of conversion; but we can only be her co-sojourners if we also allow the greening of our own hearts. As in the title of Carson McCullers novel suggests – the heart is a lonely hunter. But we can overcome this existential loneliness of each one of us if we allow the natural kinship we have with the whole of humanity and the rest of creation to envelop us in a manner that empowers us to build together a just, humane and compassionate world aimed globally but with actions starting locally. This we can accomplish only if we take to heart the wise words of Sr. Marj: “heed the call to be alert at all times, to catch the beauty before it fades, to speak the truth before it is silenced, to take action before it is too late and to make a commitment to see God’s divine messages everywhere and in everyone like the saints and mystics who trained their senses to find God in all things.”

[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar is a professor at St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI) in Davao City and until recently, a professor of Anthropology at the Ateneo de Davao University. Gaspar is author of several books, including “Manobo Dreams in Arakan: A People’s Struggle to Keep Their Homeland,” which won the National Book Award for social science category in 2012, “Desperately Seeking God’s Saving Action: Yolanda Survivors’ Hope Beyond Heartbreaking Lamentations,” and his latest, “Handumanan (Remembrance): Digging for the Indigenous Wellspring.”. He writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English (A Sojourner’s Views) and the other in Binisaya (Panaw-Lantaw). Gaspar is a Datu Bago 2018 awardee, the highest honor the Davao City government bestows on its constituents.]