In the 1990’s a small group of Irish Dominican Sisters with courage and wisdom set about establishing an ecological project on their school grounds surrounded by 70 acres of land situated on a hillside overlooking the Irish Sea a short drive from the capital city of Dublin. Today their project is providing a model of sustainability, with an organic certified farm, a wildlife conservation area and an ecological centre of practice and learning. Their ten week sabbatical residential programme enables participants to explore Spirituality in the context of an evolving universe, an endangered earth, in the Christian tradition. The latter residential course was offered to me this year as a bursary by the Dominican Sisters.
My journey of learning and reflection in 2019 at this centre with a group of fifteen men and women religious including two lay women lasted for ten weeks from March to May 2019. Our efforts to live a sustainable lifestyle was greatly enabled by our environment. The building we lived in was powered by solar energy and wood pellets, with water conservation and harvesting. The food we had each day was grown on the farm and there was zero food waste. Recycling of all waste was a very serious component of our daily living. So our understanding of the Care of our fragile Earth began in very practical ways, and became a way of life for each one of us.
Our day began with communal prayer in a cosmic garden created by the Dominican community. This reminded us at the beginning of each day, of the mystery of God in all of creation and our need to be in right relationships with all living things. It helped us to enter into a sense of the vastness of the time and space of the Universe, while conveying also the sense of the sequence in the earths unfolding process over a period of 14 billion years.
Throughout the programme of lectures and group sessions, we were helped by speakers, experts in their own disciplines, and by each other, to critique our present world order from an understanding of cosmology, environmental philosophy, theology, biblical studies, spirituality, geology and the rapport between religion and science etc. We were invited to widen the space of our tent to see things differently or within a different context. The reoccurring theme was the interconnectedness of all of life which brings with it, a new understanding of nature, of ourselves and our role in the web of life.
We reflected on many issues that are currently endangering the earth Time was given to two of the most urgent issues – The loss of Biodiversity and the effects of Global Warming/ Climate Change.
Biodiversity – the extravagant efflorescence of life. Unfortunately the rate at which species are becoming extinct because of us, is between 1,000 and 10,000 times what it would be without us. As we enter this third Christian millennium we are allowing the disappearance of entire sectors of the awesome spectrum of natural diversity. This is a crisis the like of which the world has never seen before in the earth’s long history.
Global Warming/Climate Change –Humanity is called to recognise the need for changes in lifestyle, production and consumption in order to combat the warming of the earth surface experiencing dramatic climate change. Many leading scientists tell us that we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by between 60% and 80% to stabilise greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere. If we continue to use fossil fuel as we are doing at present the world will become a more inhospitable place to live in, for each succeeding generation. We began to understand more deeply the concept of inter-generational justice. Possible actions that need to happen at a local, national and international levels were discussed concerning each issue, and the importance of networking was highlighted as a vital component for bringing about change.
Each week we explored the Bible and Ecology in a changing world.
What had the greatest impact on me in our study of the Bible was the story of creation from the Book of Genesis. The need to shift from the Paradigm of Dominion (of subduing the earth, power over nature, which has led at times to the abuse of earth resources) to a Stewardship Model of creation. The latter model starts from the understanding that all of creation belongs to God. We are entrusted by God to take care of His creation, to create a web of reciprocal relationships with all creatures. With the advance of evolutionary science and insights we know that all life on this planet forms one community which moves us towards the community of Creation Paradigm. This concept is expressed so eloquently in the Book of Job, which contains the longest piece of writing on the natural world in the whole of the Bible.
We also had the opportunity to study and reflect on the Encyclical Laudato Si – the Care of Our Common home- the cry of the earth and the plight of the poor. The inseparable bond between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society and inner peace (10). For Pope Francis, facts are real and can enable us to change our ideas. There is no ambiguity. We have made mistakes and messed things up, our earth our home is beginning to look more like an immense pile of filth (21). The need for an ecological conversion which is both individual and communal. It is we human beings that need to change (216-221). We are Gods work of art (Eph 2:10 )
Thus ecological conversion is a call to come home to who we are as species among species in the awesome web of life. Getting in touch with our essence, our deeper selves, enables us to broaden our circle of compassion to include all beings in the community of life and to discern how best to work in solidarity, justice and peace and the integrity of creation. The inner and outer are one and the same journey. The outer work can never be great if the inner work is small, and the outer work can never be small if the inner work is great (Meister Eckhart). Pope Francis relates inner peace to care for the earth and the common good reflected in a balanced life style and a capacity for wonder which takes us to a deeper understanding of life (225). He urges us to think and act strategically in combatting poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature (139).
As a congregation of LSAs, an ecological conversion/an integral ecology was identified as one of the major challenges to be strengthened. This as a priority, a commitment that unifies our whole life, including our life of faith, (as stated at our General Chapter 2017 and again at the Assembly of the Congregation April 2019), for all sisters and groups of laity, finding alternative ways to live on this earth.
I have a deep sense of gratitude for all that I had received, new learnings, new challenges, a life giving experience of a community living a sustainable life style with joy and support. I hope in the future with God’s grace that I can make the choices in my life as a LSA for a sustainable planet. Being attentive to all that is happening in our world and in the Church (the outcome of the Amazon Synod 6th to the27th October 2019) and by networking with others, who carry the same desire in their hearts. Alone we can do so little ; together we can do so much (Helen Keller). I end this account of my time at the Dominican Ecology Centre by citing the following quote from the Earth Charter 2000.
“Let ours be a time remembered for the awaking of a new reverence for life, the firm resolve to achieve sustainability the quickening of the struggle for justice, peace and the joyful celebration of life.” Earth Charter 2000.
Irene Bailey L. S. A. Anglo Celtic Territory.