Our plumber has a mantra: Water problems don’t get better on their own. It’s a slick way to remind us that we will inevitably pay him to fix our problematic pipes.
But it’s also accurate. A plumbing-related problem can manifest itself in a number of ways — and over the course of any number of days. Just because you see a puddle today doesn’t mean you’ll see the same puddle tomorrow.
Did you flush the toilet and run the dishwasher? The pipe was loose but not so loose that water came rushing out consistently. If you angle the faucet handle just right…
Different factors lead to different outcomes. It’s possible to go days and weeks and pretend that the problem has simply vanished. Sure, I saw some water damage on the ceiling…but that was weeks ago!
But water problems don’t get better on their own. In fact, they only get worse — and no matter how determined I am to keep the plumber at bay, I know if we’re going to fix things, he has to get into those pipes, behind the wall, under the toilet, wherever.
He has to repair the rogue element so that the whole system runs as it should. Waiting only makes matters worse.
Pope Francis reminds us of something similar in his recently released apostolic exhortation “Laudate Deum.” Pulling on the threads he wove into “Laudato si’,” the pope again challenges us to stop kicking responsibility for climate solutions into the future. We have to reimagine how we engage with the whole of creation and our place within it now.
There’s a particular section that has been reverberating in my own prayer:
“We risk remaining trapped in the mindset of pasting and papering over cracks, while beneath the surface there is a continuing deterioration to which we continue to contribute. To suppose that all problems in the future will be able to be solved by new technical interventions is a form of homicidal pragmatism, like pushing a snowball down a hill.” (57)
It may help me sleep better at night thinking that, even if everything appears to be a mess today, someone will undoubtedly come up with a global fix some time in the future.
But of course, the pope is right: We can’t put off tackling these big issues under the assumption that someone, somewhere, someday will come up with the antidote. Just like that increasingly deadly snowball rolling down the hill, the storms will only continue to get deadlier, harvests will continue to become unpredictable and rising sea levels will continue to push people from their homes.
What’s more, the temptation to cast into an uncertain future for a magical remedy is to strip ourselves of our own agency in the present moment and to split ourselves away from creation as a whole. We are part of God’s creation, here, now. And with that comes responsibility, yes, but also cause for joy and celebration. We aren’t simply passing through this world; this created world is God’s love letter to us: “The world sings of an infinite Love: how can we fail to care for it?” (65)
I go back to the plumbing example. Right or wrong, a leak in a public bathroom is going to cause me less anxiety than a leak in my guest bathroom. Why? Because we care for our homes. They’re places of warmth and family and comfort. We know who is responsible. We might hope that someone, somewhere fixes that public restroom; we know it’s on us to fix the bathroom in our own house.
So, why would we wait? Why would we let that leak get worse and cause more damage? Why would we engage in magical thinking, wishing for a quick fix when we know we just need to do the work and make some changes?
Because in the end, Pope Francis’ advice goes beyond integral ecology. In our own spiritual lives, we know that breaking bad habits today is a better bet than hoping something magically changes next week or next year. But it takes work. It takes commitment. It takes an expanded imagination.
If something is actively hurting us — our bodies, our communities, our very souls — then let’s not paste and paper over cracks. Let’s sink into a solution that ensures the whole system is running as it should. Then we can get back to the business of singing, rejoicing in and celebrating that song of infinite Love.
Eric A. Clayton is the award-winning author of Cannonball Moments: Telling Your Story, Deepening Your Faith (Loyola Press) and the deputy director of communications at the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States. His essays on spirituality, parenting and pop culture have appeared in America Magazine, National Catholic Reporter, U.S. Catholic, Busted Halo and more, and he is a regular contributor to Give Us This Day, IgnatianSpirituality.com and Dork Side of the Force, where he blogs about Star Wars. His fiction has been published by Black Hare Press, the World of Myth Magazine and more. He lives in Baltimore, MD with his wife, two young daughters and their cat, Sebastian. Sign up for his Substack “Story Scraps” here.