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Hope, Elders and the Environment


Jane Goodall, as you likely recall, is known for her 60-year study of wild chimpanzees of Tanzania. She is a naturalist, anthropologist, social activist, and author of 27 books, including The Chimpanzees of Gombe, The Eagle and the Wren, and Reason for Hope. A Spiritually Journey.


I recently listened to her audiobook The Book of Hope. A Survival Guide in Troubling Times[1]; and by the first chapter I was pulled fully into her story of elderhood, hope, spirituality, and the environment.


Her lifelong work is about the intricate interconnectedness within the world. It inspires the sacred, life-preserving graces and relationships we all share. In the context of indigenous cultures, she is an elder – in that she carries the wisdom, compassion, quiet leadership, and spirituality of her experiences, and knowledge across traditions and across generations.


I reference indigenous cultures with respect, to create awareness and provide reverence. I do it with the hope of stirring awareness of the elders who, unknown perhaps to themselves and unknown to others, may be walking among us in our communities – with the hope that those who hear may recognize the significance and find a calling to accept it – in whatever manner it calls to them.


Stephen Jenkinson in “Come of Age”[2] responds, “It used to be that age was held in some esteem, considerable esteem even, as the concentration of life experience …....... (today) there is nothing inherently ennobling about aging .... we must be elders in training. If we don’t train young people and middle-aged people in elderhood, we will have no elderhood.”


A similar mandate if not the same point from another perspective, Pope Francis writes in the Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’[2]: “...we cannot presume to heal our relationships with nature and the environment without healing all fundamental human relationships (LS6) … describing the shared relationship humans have with the earth and each other.


Pope Francis also speaks of hope, calling it a “silent and humble virtue … it supports us in difficulty and brings us peace … it flows under the water of life … (it) bears us up, so we don't drown in so many difficulties, so we do not lose that desire to find God.”

Goodall writes in the “Book of Hope”, “Hope can be a challenging spiritual practice, requiring vulnerability, putting ourselves on the line, taking a risk. It requires truth, honesty and, importantly, effort as opposed to what accompanies a wish … for example, with the effects of climate change worldwide, hope of correcting the damage will require work … this work, in turn, though, creates hope.”


She adds, “Hope is not faith … which is believing in an intellectual power beyond the universe … God, Divinity, a Supreme Being or something like that. We can believe this is true, but we can’t know it. We can, though, know the direction we want to go, and we can hope to be on the right path.”


Goodall further adds, “Hope is not an emotion, instinct or impulse, rather an aspect of a survival … actually a human survival trait, and without which we would perish.” Hope bears us up … so we don’t lose the desire to see God” … “As a naturalist I look for the wonder of nature, listening to the voice of nature and learning from nature as I try to understand it.”


“As a naturalist it is necessary to have empathy and intuition – and love – the foundation of my spirituality”. “Any little thing that brings us back into communion with the natural world and the spiritual power that permeates all life will help us to move a little further along the path of human moral and spiritual evolution.” [3]

[1] Goodall, Jane and Douglas Abrams. The Book of Hope. A Survival Guide in Trying Times. 2021. Celadon Books, NY. [2] Pope Francis. 2015. Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home [Encyclical]. [3]Jane Goodall, Reason for Hope, A Spiritual Journey. 1999. Warner Books, New York.

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