Retreat to a Joyful Hilltop, Part II

The reason for my visit to the Adrian Dominican Motherhouse was two-fold:  Visit with Sr. Helene (my mentor), and attend the conference on “Dimensions of Earth-Keeping: The Biblical, Legal, & Practical.”  The annual Associates Retreat is going on right now, and I was planning on attending that, but I’m a practical person.  If I have to save money for 8 months to fly somewhere for less than a week, I want to get the most out of my trip.  So, back in February when I spieled the “All School Garden” idea to my principal & got approval for this huge project, AND saw this conference on Earth-Keeping being offered at the Weber Center, it was a “no-brainer” that I should attend.  I decided to go up a day before the conference and stay two days after so I could really enjoy all the beauty & serenity that this place has to offer.  Also, I really wanted to spend some quality time with Sr. Helene!

Now, I bring 30 years of gardening experience & a life-long love & respect for the natural world to a retreat like this one on Earth-Keeping, so you know I was in my element!  A room full of Dominicans talking about our faith, our call to care for the Earth (biblical & legal), and how to save it from destruction (again the legal & also the practical).  Yep.  I totally loved this trip on many levels.

Sr. Pat Bensen, OP began by debunking the overly misinterpreted & misunderstood passage in the Book of Genesis (Gen 1:26-30).  The idea that we humans have “dominion” over the Earth & all it’s creatures has made humans think & act as if we are at the top of a pyramid structure and that all the Earth is a kind of resource for us to consume.  A better, more balanced understanding is that we are ALL created in God’s image, and we (humans) are in harmony with creation (& God) when we understand that we are just one of many species within a circular structure, not a pyramid.  From the very beginning of Sr. Pat’s talk my thoughts turned to Indigenous Peoples and all that we (those of us with a Western Colonialist mentality) could learn from these beautiful cultures, and all that we have tried to destroy out of (again) our misunderstanding & arrogance.

On Saturday Sr. Pat Siemen, OP presented the “legal” implications of working for “Nature’s Rights.”  She teaches & works at the Center for Earth Jurisprudence in Orlando, Florida (the direct link to the Center was down at the time of this posting, but should be up again soon; the above link explains the Center’s mission).  Sr. Pat talked about how we need to change our worldview from an “ego-human-centered” one (the pyramid) to a more balanced “nature-centered” view (the circle).  She said something that makes perfect sense to me, “We can’t have legal change until we have cultural & spiritual change.”  We need to change our worldview before it is too late, and, according to a 1992 report put out by about 1,700 of the world’s leading scientists, it already is.  Laws that protect & affirm Nature’s Rights will never become a reality until we experience a deep desire to change our understanding of our connection to creation.

After we were thoroughly depressed by the apparent lack of laws on the books to protect Nature’s Rights, and our rapid demise as a species, Sr. Mary Ellen Leciejewski offered a ray of hope!  Her presentation focused on what she & her staff at Dignity Health Hospital in Santa Cruz, California have done to lower their waste, reduce their carbon footprint, and educate patients and staff about some of these important environmental issues.  They even have a garden!  You know Sr. Mary Ellen & I talked about that one!  So, there are solutions out there, but we really need to wake up & smell the toxic waste.

After the conference I went in search of the 60′ wide Labyrinth & walked that, meditating & digesting all I had learned during the conference.  Along the edge of the woods around the Labyrinth I spied something I haven’t enjoyed in almost 10 years:  Wild Blackberries!  I gobbled-up some as I picked a handful to be added to my yogurt at breakfast in the morning.  Yum!

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Dinner was followed by a visit with Sr. Helene and then a tour of the vegetable gardens with Sr. Mary (who was also visiting with Sr. Helene).  What an impressive site of raised beds & huge tomatoes!  I wish everyone could get as excited as I do about growing & preparing your own food.  I think it really is a starting point to changing our worldview.

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More about my trip & how I had dinner with “Dominican Rock-stars” later!


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