Religious gather to share earth wisdom and spirituality

4-photos_soeLeft, Sisters of Earth women visit the gravesite of earth prophet/futurist Sister Paula González, S.C.; second from left, Sister Joyce Richter, S.C., with Sister Marie Kopin during the conference; third from left, women holding hands in the circle; right, Sister Marie Kopin, Colleen Kammer and Sister Mary E. Wendeln.

The Sisters of Earth conference, July 12-15, drew nearly 100 women religious from the United States and Canada to Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati with the theme “Sharing the Wisdom, Shaping the Dream: Creating the Future We Want.” Sisters Marie Kopin and Mary Wendeln and peace, justice and ecology director, Colleen Kammer, attended the biennial conference.

Sisters of Earth, an informal, international network of women formed in 1994, are women who share a deep concern for the ecological and spiritual crises of our time and support one another in work toward healing the human spirit and restoring Earth’s life-sustaining systems.

The conference theme was explored through the teachings of Joanna Macy, a respected voice in the peace, justice and ecology field. As an eco-philosopher, author, activist and a scholar of Buddhism and general systems theory, Macy created a theoretical framework for personal and social change, as well as methods of learning and action.

Macy engages others in her work, known as the “work that reconnects,” through a four-step process: gratitude, honoring the pain, seeing with new eyes and going forth. Through videos, group discussion, activities, song and movement, conference attendees explored Macy’s teachings, including topics in her book (with Chris Johnstone) Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in Without Going Crazy.

Several congregations shared their commitment and work in sustainability. The Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, the informal hosts for the conference, said that they chose care of creation as the focus for their congregation in 1999. They talked about the late Sister Paula González, S.C., known as the “Solar Nun,” who worked for three decades to promote sustainable living, especially concerning energy use. She founded EarthConnection, a ministry of the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, an environmental learning center near their motherhouse in Cincinnati.

The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth (SCN), Bardstown, Kentucky, impressed the conference attendees with their goal of net zero living. This means that the water, energy and waste systems that they use will be sustainable or reusable, similar to the way resources are used in nature. As one example, their motherhouse will be a zero-waste facility, meaning that all of its refuse will either be recyclable or compostable.

Sister Susan Gatz, SCN, president, said that the congregation feels very strongly about sustainability and decided to stake their lives and their livelihood on making changes in this regard. Sister Susan said, “When we articulate something, we begin to move in that direction either consciously or unconsciously.” She further added, “We feel that our biggest impact as a congregation is being a role model for others.”

The Sisters of Earth also learned about the late Father Thomas Berry, C.P., and his belief of the four sources of wisdom that he expects to guide humanity in the 21st century: women, religious traditions, collective science and indigenous wisdom. Indeed, listening to one another’s stories of experience, knowledge, tradition, pain, sorrow and joy is what will lead us to respond to our societal and environmental difficulties with resilience and creative power. We cannot have peace on earth unless we have peace with the earth.

Joanna Macy’s assistant, Anne Symens-Bucher, spoke to the group via videoconference.

Referring to Macy’s teachings and work, she said that active hope equals active nonviolence. She posed the questions, “Where is my heart when I speak to someone? How can I open my heart to hear the other?” She followed that by saying, “When you have an open heart, you always speak the truth with love.” From that position, we can best fulfill our role in the transition to a loving, life-sustaining society.

– Story by Colleen Kammer, director of peace, justice and ecology; Sue DiTullio photos

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