A Reflection on Dependency

A long time ago I read Bruno Bettelheim’s book A Good Enough Parent: a book on child rearing. He drew comparisons between agrarian families of yesteryear and modern urban families. 

The passage that sticks out in my mind was that he thought animals should be fed first at meal times; then babies, the infirm and elderly, young children and lastly, the healthy adults. Bettelheim’s order is based on the greatest to least dependency on others for their lives.  

In Jesus’ time, it was culturally accepted that in normal society widows and orphans were the most dependent on others. They had little or no status to protect them and were vulnerable to neglect or abuse with impunity. Jesus put the widows and orphans at the top of the hierarchy – like Bettelheim did with animals. 

Today, we consider the ‘widows and orphans’ to include groups of people who have emerged as similarly vulnerable to exploitation with impunity. Animals are also in this situation. They are the most unprotected of all life. Pope Francis and ecologists like Columban Fr Sean McDonagh have written about the destruction of the natural world and exhort us to stop and care for it instead.

Marcus Fillinger, a former Australian military officer, says he feels ‘huge empathy’ for the fear that animals experience when they can’t escape peril. He has used his marksmanship to tranquillise injured Australian native animals like kangaroos, so they can receive veterinarian care for burns from bushfires. 

Now he is helping rescue animals from the war in Ukraine. Once sedated, others evacuate them to safety. Many exotic animals have been left to die in backyard breeder compounds that were trading animals as commodities.

I have my own experience of rescuing an animal in a foreign country. On a trip in Crimea, my daughter and niece saw a stray dog with a gash in its leg. They fed it but it ran away. We searched for it over the next couple of days, knowing it needed veterinarian care. It was a sweet-tempered dog, black and white, and we named her Honey. They saw her again, curled up on the ground. But they had a commitment to a performance at that moment. So straight afterwards, they searched again and found her. Our hotel manager brought her car and we got Honey into it and took her to a vet she had contacted. 

The vet examined Honey and gave her injections. He had no room for her at the clinic until the next day, so the hotel manager let my daughter and I stay with Honey in her apartment while she stayed at the hotel. The next morning, she took us back to the vet. My daughter and I paid for Honey’s treatment in advance – the remainder of our spending money – and left her there. We went back a few days later. Honey was recovering and we took her for a short walk. We took many photos, including one of the whole group – the hotel manager, us, the vet and his nurses with Honey in front. 

We didn’t want Honey to go back on the streets. The hotel manager had the solution: a friend had a property in the country and he agreed to take her. Back in Australia, we received videos of Honey enjoying her new life. 

God, please give us the grace to respect the dependency of animals on us and to notice the ones that need our help. Guide us in our dealings with all who are involved. No matter what our circumstances, we know You will help us. 

Lucy Bastecky, March 2024

(About the author: Lucy Bastecky is an Australian who loves nature and appreciates the spirituality of St Ignatius. She enjoys creating biodiverse suburban gardens and has taken up drawing plants and the small creatures that live in and around them.)

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A Reflection on Wildlife

My mother is two years short of 100. Over recent years, she has lamented “we are losing our creatures because of humanity.” Mum’s long, faith-filled life gives poignancy to her lament. Her humility has kept her in touch with nature.  

Mum goes out onto her front porch each day and feeds a family of Magpies who sing for a few sprinkles of chopped nuts. She talks to them and when the nuts are gone, she tells them to “go and find a worm”. This anecdote offers insight into a loving relationship with God’s Creation.  One, we regard animals as beloved since God is Love and God created them; two, we notice and enjoy their lives; three, we provide ecological conditions that support or enhance their existence; and four, we allow nature to take its course. 

What can I do? This is a question that grows on many of us as we mature and notice more and more whether wildlife is absent or present. What is living near us? Can I improve the habitat where I live so that it provides food, shelter and water for a greater diversity of animals, great or small? Is there an organisation I can support that is re-wilding land, re-introducing threatened species into a protected habitat? What about those who need support as they work with poachers and their communities to transform attitudes to wildlife and create alternative sources of income? Locally, is there a group I can join, or begin, to regenerate a creek or pond? Who in government is motivated to back this work? 

We are in hot, dry times at the moment in Canberra, Australia, and the birds need water, especially those that eat seeds. Today, outside my window I saw the Eastern Spinebill, a regular visitor, piping his song after each splash in the shallow birdbath. Yesterday, three female Satin Bowerbirds surprised me by arriving and bathing in the larger birdbath. This morning, I put the sprinkler on under the tea tree shrub at the time the Superb Fairy-wrens and Thornbills were there yesterday. Soon after, they flew from my neighbour’s property to the shrub and flitted through its branches under the steady shower of droplets, perching on the higher branches and shaking their feathers before re-entering the sprinkling water. After a few minutes, they flew away. 

Nature responds to practical encouragement. A birdbath near a tree or in a protected spot, or a dish on the ground under a strip of shrubbery can fulfil the need for water. It is simple, diligent work. If you are absent during the day, you will miss the birds’ activity but you may well find a feather left behind that tells you they have been. Children or grandchildren can help you clean the birdbath or dish and refill it with fresh water. Let them in on the secrets of nature and how to care for it. 

As a community, we can stem the loss of creatures. Let us ask God to be with us as we discern how to restore and protect God’s Creation.

Lucy Bastecky, March 2024

(About the author: Lucy Bastecky is an Australian who loves nature and appreciates the spirituality of St Ignatius. She enjoys creating biodiverse suburban gardens and has taken up drawing plants and the small creatures that live in and around them.)

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A Lenten Reflection – The Ordinary Naturalist

The ordinary person who wants to care for the Earth does it in ordinary ways. Simply being an observer of nature is a good place to start.

Some years ago my family went to stay in a cottage by the sea. On entering the house I heard pecking. Before long I found the source: a blackbird had fallen through the flue into the wood heater below. I opened the door and the bird flew into the room in a panic. I caught it in a towel when it landed on a windowsill, took it outside and freed it. It flew up into the blue sky with an unforgettable bell-like song.

A few days ago I saw a bee on a bottlebrush shrub. Its furry body with its bands of honey-yellow caught my eye. As I watched it, a bird swooped and snatched it. I stood up to look at the bird, but it had flown into the cover of the garden. It was a female blackbird; I knew from its size, flight and the colour of its wings. 

These creatures and their habitats are our companions in daily life. Shall we attend to them and treat our common Earth with respect?

I once read a nineteenth century account of the tender way that German farmers in South Australia cared for their sheep. The writer observed the animals were calm and biddable, the workers had an easier time of their job, and there was harmony between the animals and people.

Jeremy Bentham elevated the connection between ourselves and animals when he pronounced “The question is not, can they reason? Nor, can they talk? But, can they suffer?” Ecological theology moves us to contemplate Bentham’s insight.

Lent is a time for that.

As we receive the ashes on our forehead, we receive the ashes of the Earth in crisis. 

But with God’s grace, we can rejuvenate Earth and its creatures great and small. We can gently brush up the spider we see inside the house and put it in a hospitable place outdoors instead of crushing or poisoning it.

We can raise our voices against poorly conceived plans that will degrade a part of God’s paradise.

We can contemplate the poem God’s Grandeur by Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ and pray his love of nature takes deep root in us. 

This Lent, we can find our way little by little to caring for the Earth – like the owner of the seaside cottage who replaced the cap on the flue.

About the author:
Lucy Bastecky is an Australian who loves nature and appreciates the spirituality of St Ignatius. She enjoys creating biodiverse suburban gardens and has taken up drawing plants and the small creatures that live in and around them. 

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