Another paradigm: Listening to nature

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Now that the great rains will be coming soon; floods, storms, hurricanes and landslides, we must learn again to listen to nature.
Our entire Western culture, of Greek origin, is based on seeing. It is no accident that the central category - idea (eidos in Greek) – means vision. Tele-vision is its main expression. We have developed our vision to the fullest. With high powered telescopes we have penetrated even the depths of the universe, to see more distant galaxies. We have delved down to the most elemental particles and to the intimate mystery of life. To see is everything for us. But we must be aware that this is the way of Westerners, and not of everyone else.
Other cultures very near to us, the Andean cultures of the Kechuas, Aymaras and others, structure themselves around escuchar -- to listen. Logically, they also see, but it is their touchstone to listen to the messages of what they see. A peasant from the Bolivian altiplano told me: «I listen to nature and I know what the mountain tells me». And talking with a chaman, he said to me: «I listen to Pachamama and know what she is communicating to me».
Everything speaks: the stars, the sun, the moon, the magnificent mountains, the serene lakes, the deep valleys, the fleeting clouds, the jungles, the birds and the animals. These people learn to listen thoughtfully to these voices. Books are not important to them because they are mute, while nature is filled with voices. And they are so specialized in this listening that, seeing the clouds, listening to the wind, observing the flames or the movements of the ants, they know what is going to happen in nature. This reminds me an old theological tradition elaborated by Saint Augustine and systematized by Saint Bonaventure in the Middle Ages: the first divine revelation is the voice of nature, the true speaking book of God. But since we had lost our capacity to listen, God, taking pity on us, gave us a second book, the Bible, so that listening to the Bible's contents we could hear once again what nature is telling us.
In 1532 in Cajamarca, when Francisco Pizarro, by means of a treacherous ambush, captured the Inka chief Atahualpa, he ordered the Dominican friar, Vicente Valverde, to read to him, through his interpreter Felipillo, the requerimiento, a text in Latin, so that they would accept being baptized and would submit to the Spanish sovereigns, because the pope had ordered it. If they refused, they would be enslaved for disobedience. Atahualpa asked him where the authority came from. Valverde handed him the book of the Bible. Atahualpa put the book in his ear. Since he did not hear anything, he threw the Bible to the ground. Pizarro took that as a signal to massacre the whole royal guard and imprison the sovereign Inka. From this, we can see that escuchar, to listen, was everything for Atahualpa. The Bible did not speak.
For Andean culture, everything is structured within a web of living relations, full of meaning and messages. The Andean people perceive the thread that penetrates, unifies and gives meaning to everything. We Westerners, see the trees but not the woods. Things are isolated from one another. They are mute. Speaking is our thing only. We understand things apart from their relationships, that is why our language is formal and cold. With it, we have developed philosophies, theologies, doctrines, sciences and dogmas. But that is only our way of experiencing the world, not the way of all the peoples of the Earth.
The Andean help us make relative our supposed «universalism». We can express messages through other relational and inclusive forms, rather than the objective and mute ones to which are accustomed. The Andean peoples challenge us to escuchar the messages that come to us from everywhere. In these days, we must listen to the warnings of the dark clouds, the woods on the mountainsides, the rivers that swell and tear down barriers, the steep slopes and loose rocks. The natural sciences can help us in this listening. But it is not our cultural habit to heed the warnings of that which we see, and our deafness makes us victims of regretable disasters. We can only dominate nature by obeying her, that is, by listening to what she would teach us. Deafness will give us bitter lessons.
- Leonardo Boff is Theologian / Earthcharter Commission
Free translation from the Spanish sent by Melina Alfaro, done at REFUGIO DEL RIO GRANDE, Texas, EE.UU.
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