Eco-spirituality is a spiritual practice that allows us to reflect on the natural world, its beauty and God’s deep incarnation in the world

Eco-spirituality is a spiritual practice that allows us to reflect on the natural world, its beauty and God’s deep incarnation in the world. 

Alice holds a Masters of Theology, which she uses to run Laudato Si Action plans with schools for the Catholic Earthcare program. 
This article is an abridged version of her essay " Our Ecological Sins and Making Sacrifices for Our Land", which can be read in full in Promotio Iustitiae no 133, 2022/1.

In this moment of ecological crisis, it is essential for us to develop eco-spirituality practices that revolve around becoming intimately connected with creation and understanding ourselves not as lords or masters over creation but as integral members of its ecology.

One of the key ways in which eco-spirituality can grow is through the development of ecological virtues. Ecological virtues allow people to understand their relationship with the land and to behave in a way that shows compassion to our earth that is crying out in pain.  However, why don’t we focus on the actions which cause the pain in the first place?

The term we could use for these actions is ecological sins, the antithesis of ecological virtues. They are actions or dispositions that disconnect us from creation and add to its pain. Seven ecological virtues (drawn from Laudato Si’) is an apt device because people are often quite familiar with the seven cardinal virtues: chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, kindness, patience and humility. 

Pope Francis discusses the virtues that people should endeavour to build within themselves and the attributes to avoid. Some of the ecological sins are similar to, or, virtually identical to the deadly sins, but the key difference is that deadly sins refer to human interactions with each other, whereas these ecological sins relate to our association with creation. 

The seven proposed ecological sins are: 
Disassociation from ourselves, from creation and God: Misunderstanding our integral part in creation and positioning screens between ourselves and our loved ones
Exploitation: Deliberately destroying and wreaking havoc on our ecosystems to rape and plunder our earth’s resources for economic gain
Harm: Ignoring the cries of the earth in a way that is not deliberate. It disrespects God as creator and damages our relationship with Him
Inequality: Being selfish about our needs and wants contributes to global inequality and sin directly relates to how we treat our brothers and sisters
Waste: To be wasteful of the gifts of creation that have been given to us, as servants to the ‘throwaway culture’ that plagues contemporary society
Greed: We need to be acutely aware that greed leads to other ecological sins
Arrogance: Misunderstanding and failing to see the incarnation of God in our world

All of these sins ultimately derive from one sin – anthropocentrism, the belief that we, as humans, are gods on this earth because we are made in His image. To some extent, we must understand that original sin is the sin of anthropocentrism; however, one of the main differences is that, through the act of the resurrection, God came to show us that we always were and always will be forgiven.

God, deeply incarnate with creation, may be able to forgive us for our actions. Creation is governed by the laws of physics and biology and, as we have already seen and continue to see, will not be so forgiving of our actions. 

We can only understand the enormity of this false belief of anthropocentrism by breaking it down into its parts.  The most challenging part of developing an eco-spirituality is acknowledging sin and asking for forgiveness. Over time, we can then come to repair and reconcile our relationships with one another, the Earth and our God. 

Research has shown that those who live privileged lives contribute to a more significant proportion of environmental harm and exploitation; our anthropocentric dispositions are fuelled by the societal clamorings to have more, to want more, and for everything to be more convenient. 

Eco-spirituality requires sacrificing our time, our money, our reputations, and ego. For example, suppose we want to help reduce the exploitation of workers who are not paid a reasonable wage. Every time we purchase an item of clothing that is cheap because it does not come from a fair-trade source, we send a message that we value the product we purchased, and the methods used to create it. 

We are also contributing to the pollution caused by the production and disposal of these items. We must then sacrifice by re-wearing, repairing, re-purposing, wearing out, handing down and thrifting our clothing. These actions help us avoid the sins of exploitation, harm and waste and build the virtues of sobriety, gratitude, and care.
Logging is but one example of the devastation humanity is capable of. 

Another example is when we choose to reduce the use of our fossil fuel-guzzling cars. When we purchase fuel, we send a message that we value that product and will use it. We are contributing to the exploitation of the earth and the ongoing harm to the planet, both in the way the fuel is extracted and the emissions it produces. 

When we choose to ride a bike, take public transport, walk, or at least car-pool; we reduce the harm done to the planet. We, therefore, are caring for creation. 

When we spend too much time on our screens and locked indoors, we continue to disassociate ourselves from creation. We fail to sit in awe and wonder of God’s work, praising His name. 

When we plant a monoculture lawn at the front of our house as a symbol of status and tear out our native species to create perfectly manicured gardens, we prohibit the natural world’s ability to praise God. 

When we spend time in awe and wonder, regenerate the earth and allow our native species to thrive, we enable all organisms to worship God. 

These actions that aim to overcome sin require purposeful reflection on our intimate connection with creation. The act of reflecting and discerning our behaviours helps us to build an eco-spirituality.

If there was ever a time when we needed to make selfless sacrifices for the earth, it is now amid ecological crisis. Through sacrifice, we see the world differently, in a way that is more intimately connected with the Earth.


This story originally appeared in the Autumn 2023 edition of the Australian Salesian Bulletin