2008 CONFERENCE REFLECTIONS - JULY 10-13

123 Sisters of Earth and 19 Sacred Web Singers converged for the 8th Biannual Sisters of Earth Conference at the Presentation Center in Los Gatos, CA. Four countries were represented: Australia (2), Canada (15), New Zealand (2) and the United States (123). 28 States were represented from east to west, and three Provinces in Canada.

The conference theme was PAX GAIA (Peace of Earth). It was inspired by the words of Thomas Berry:
“What we look for is no longer the Pax Romana, the peace of imperial Rome, nor is it simply the Pax Humana, the peace among humans, but the Pax Gaia, the peace of Earth and every being on the Earth. This is the original and final peace, the peace granted by whatever power it is that brings our world into being. Within the universe, the planet Earth with all its wonder is the place for the meeting of the divine and the human.“ (Evening Thoughts)

And we challenged ourselves, through content and process, to deepen our reflection on what Thomas Berry identifies as a ‘deep cultural pathology’ of our time, and the need for a ‘deep cultural therapy.’
“That we should have caused such damage to the entire functioning of the planet Earth in all its major biosystems is obviously the consequence of a deep cultural pathology. Just as clearly, there is need for a deep cultural therapy if we are to proceed into the future with some assurance that we will not continue in this pathology or lapse into the same pathology at a later date.” (Evening Thoughts)

JULY 10-11
MARY EVELYN TUCKER, KEYNOTE SPEAKER
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In the intense summer heat of July 10th, Mary Evelyn Tucker’s opening remarks reminded us of the urgency of our time, the earth ‘on fire,’ and the fire within each of us. “The ancestors are with us … and future generations are with us … IMMENSE POWERS are with us!” she exclaimed.

A major piece of our ‘cultural pathology,’ she claims, is how humanity has left behind the sensibility that nature is profoundly spiritual. We have de-animated the world. And the ‘God is dead,’ ‘earth is inert,’ the ‘universe is dead’ messages/stories come through for many. The challenge is “How do we give words, music, image, experience to this sensibility of the profoundly spiritual dimension of nature? Earth ITSELF is alive! How do we feel it, communicate it? Does matter MATTER?”

Mary Evelyn encouraged us to find the openings, among others, where we can express the profoundly sacred sensibility that we know and feel in our hearts: “Where is my heart yearning to go? … We are only beginning to love the earth … We are laying the foundations for Pax Gaia.”

The next morning she continued by drawing from the wisdom of two Thomas’: Thomas Merton and Thomas Berry.

Merton’s message is to reclaim our humanness, relax a little bit, and take our humanness all the way. Both monks teach us about the importance of contemplation, silence and solitude; they engage in deep reflection on the issues of their day; they see that ideas and action (knowledge and practice) are ONE; they value and are empowered by the seasons, and celebrate the cosmic liturgy. Mary Evelyn asked us: “How do we bring this into modern expression? It’s all LOGOS – the Cosmic Christ in the universe.”


As historian of world cultures and religions, and advocate of new cosmology and its consequent human meaning, Thomas Berry names four Scriptures that shape awareness:

  1. Cosmic Scripture
  2. Scriptures of History
  3. Written Scriptures
  4. Scriptures of the Human Heart

Mary Evelyn encouraged us to ‘re-inhabit the cosmic scriptures and the scriptures of the human heart.’ “We’ve been living within the limitations of the written scripture. We need to break open our sense of encapsulation, gently, respectfully to the Cosmic Scripture … to its revelatory BEAUTY! This is the most profound religious sensibility. Awe, wonder, beauty is at the heart of religious/spiritual sensibility.”

She reminded us that we ‘create culture.’ What we industrial humans have done is that "we have created a culture without soul … a world without soul."


Teilhard’s vision of ONENESS, and Thomas Berry’s vision of a functional cosmology, and the expanding, enlivening sense of a deep ecological spirituality, and the earth ethics coming forth from the Earth Charter are all significant pieces that aid us and carry us into the future. ”Cultural therapy is already at work in your thinking and your work!”

  1. TRUST in what is emerging beyond the visible!
  2. Take JOY in the immense beauty of nature! It’s always giving back and feeding us … pouring out in dawn and dusk!
  3. Accept and relinquish despair. We are midwives of hope; while we experience a mingling of hope and despair. Work with ‘the clouds in our lives’ and know that we are held in the great and extraordinary POWERS of the universe.
  4. Have CONFIDENCE in the future that goes beyond the sad/bad news!

[A handout was provided: Quote from Thomas Berry published in 1978 in the first Teilhard Study; and pp. 176-177 Thomas Merton’s Book of Hours, edited by Kathleen Deignan)

From “The New Story,” by Thomas Berry, 1st Teilhard Study (1978)


“If the DYNAMICS OF THE UNIVERSE from the beginning shaped the course of the heavens, lighted the sun, and formed the earth – if this same dynamism brought forth the continents and seas and atmosphere; if it awakened life in the primordial cell and then brought into being the unnumbered variety of living beings and finally brought [the human] into being and guided [us] safely through the turbulent centuries; there is reason to believe that THIS SAME GUIDING PROCESS is precisely what has awakened in [us] our present understanding of ourselves and our relation to this stupendous process. Sensitized to this guidance we can have CONFIDENCE IN THE FUTURE that awaits the human venture.

BOOK OF HOURS by MERTON
– Compiled by Kathleen Deignan, CND

Psalm

There is another kind of justice than the justice of number,
which can neither forgive nor be forgiven.
There is another kind of mercy than the mercy of Law
which knows no absolution.
There is a justice of newborn worlds
which cannot be counted
There is a mercy of individual things that spring into
being without reason.
They are just without reason, and their mercy is without
explanation.
They have received rewards beyond description
because they themselves refuse to be described.
They are virtuous in the sight of God
because their names do not identify them.
Every plant that stands in the light of the sun is a saint
and an outlaw.
Every tree that brings forth blossoms without the
command of man
is powerful in the sight of God.
Every star that man has not counted
is a world of sanity and perfection.
Every blade of grass is an angel singing in a shower of glory.
These are worlds of themselves.
No man can use or destroy them.
Theirs is the life that moves without being seen and cannot
be understood.
It is useless to look for what is everywhere.
It is hopeless to hope for what cannot be
gained because you already have it.


Psalm Prayer

This is the word You utter
To search our being to its roots:
This is the judgment and the question
And the joy we suffer:
This is our trial, this the weight of gladness
that we cannot bear.

Epistle

The contemplative life is then the search for peace not in an abstract exclusion of all outside reality, not in a barren negative closing of the senses upon the world, but in the openness of love. It begins with the acceptance of my own self in my poverty and my nearness to despair in order to recognize that where God is there can be no despair, and God is in me even if I despair. That nothing can change God’s love for me, since my very existence is the sign that God loves me, and the presence of His love creates and sustains me. Nor is there any need to understand how this can be or to explain it or to solve the problems it seems to raise. For there is in our hearts and in the very ground of our being a natural certainty that says that insofar as we exist, we are penetrated through and through with the sense and reality of God even though we may be utterly unable to believe or experience this in philosophic or even religious terms.


CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER EXPERIENCE

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Guided by Roberta Mulcahy, SSJ, and Gail Worcelo, SGM, the morning and evening contemplative prayer for the weekend was held in a beautiful outdoor courtyard blessed by 'the resident choir' with their birdsong, the presence of majestic redwoods, courtyard flowers and trees, a waxing moon at night … in short, surrounded by the beauty and gifts of nature.

The basic elements of our contemplative time: silence, centering breaths of mindfulness, the sound of a gong, silent walking meditation with inner and outer circles moving past each other in opposite directions, and chants led by the Sacred Web Singers.
“We are one,
one human family,
one Earth community,
one common destiny for all.”



JULY 11 – PANELLISTS AND FISH BOWL

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Answering the question “What dimensions of cultural pathology and cultural therapy can you identify … and which aspects do you continue to recognize in your own life?” Sisters of Earth panellists: Mary Southard, CSJ (artist), Sarah McFarland Taylor (author/professor) and Maureen Wild, SC (lecturer/retreat guide) expanded our horizons with their profound reflections that were sparkled with humour.


Then, launching the assembly into a Fish Bowl method/experience in order to ‘glean more cultural therapies,’ these three panellists responded to this part of each other's presentations. Volunteer participants took their places and carried on with further reflections re: cultural therapies. This interactive, feminine approach brought forth a diverse rainbow of thoughtful perspectives. Comments were recorded. Mary Evelyn Tucker sat within the ‘Fish Bowl’ the entire time, listening to each one share … and then offered her response at the end.


JULY 12 - APPRECIATIVE INQUIRY AND OPEN SPACE

Toni Nash introduced the Appreciative Inquiry Process by asking conference participants to form dyads and for each to complete these sentences with each other:
“I feel most alive, creative, and energized in my ‘Earth work,’ when I ..."
"The gifts, qualities and talents that I bring to this work are ..."
"At the 2010 SOE Conference I imagine myself reporting on the great things that I have been able to accomplish. They are …"
"The great works I am hearing of others in 2010 include ...”

Following this, two dyads were invited to combine into groups of four. Each participant introduced the person she had listened to earlier.
Based on these listening exercises, groups were asked to surface a summary of the GIFTS AND TALENTS OF SOE, and the VISIONS FOR THE FUTURE. The articulated VISIONS were recorded, and synthesized into themes as a preparation for OPEN SPACE. The primary themes included the following:

1) Bioregional/Local Awareness, Networking and Collaboration
2) Land Protection
3) Sustainable Design
4) Education within a Deepening Context of Earth and Universe Story
5) Engagement with Human Life and Health Issues
6) Local Food
7) Contemplation and New Rituals
8) The Arts

Conference participants chose the ‘theme group’ they wanted to join. Following a period of discussion that flowed into lunchtime, each group chose a spokesperson that shared the wisdom of their group with the whole.



JULY 12 –
GREEN ENERGY, EARTH CHARTER SONGS,
AND CREATIVE COLLABORATIONS IN LIGHT OF THE GLOBAL FOOD CRISIS


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Presentation by Paula Gonzalez, SC: Brightening the 21st Century
"Brightening the 21st Century" was a whirlwind pictorial tour showing the rapidly growing advances in renewable energy technologies. Even before these promising methods are vigoursly implemented, the American Solar Energy Society indicates that by 2030 the CO2 level could be 53% lower than it is today through energy efficiency measures alone. Then, the various renewable energy technologies could reduce the level by at least 80% by 2050. This is the level that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change claims must be achieved to avoid unprecedented catastophes. Through energy efficiency and renewal energy millions of jobs and an economic renaissance can greatly raise the morale of a struggling global community - thus greatly brightening the future.


Earth Charter Song Presentation by the Sacred Web Singers

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Between the presentations by Paula and Toni the Sacred Web Singers of Vancouver, BC - and friends - touched our minds and hearts by leading us in singing songs based on Earth Charter texts - Peril and Promise, Join Together, We of Earth, Peace Is the Wholeness, We Are One and Reverence. Images and sounds of creatures that migrate to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge wove through the singing, reminding us deeply that ‘the protection of Earth’s vitality, diversity and beauty is a sacred trust’. These songs and others were all recorded last year on a CD called My Heart Is Moved by Sacred Web Singers from across the continent. This recording, produced by Carolyn McDade and directed by Norma Luccock can be ordered at www.carolynmcdademusic.com.

Presentation by Toni Nash, CSJ: Creative Collaborations - Global Food Crisis / Local Initiatives

Toni Nash's presentation had us look at the global food crisis from the perspective of the way the universe works. Although the universe works through the bonding of smaller systems into larger ones, globalized food production and distribution has almost obliterated local food systems and farming communities. Where the universe protects the internal integrity of all entities, modern methods manipulate genetic codes and press plants and pollinators to produce at unnatural rates. And where the universe multiplies diversity to increase sustainability, global mono-cropping has put food production at grave risk. Toni suggested that we can resist these trends by following principles more in line with the universe's operating methods-- fostering strong local communities and systems, respecting the original integrity of everything, and enhancing diversity. An example of these principles in action is the work of Catherine Sneed at Hunter's Point in San Francisco. Her Garden Project both strengthens the local community and invests in the healing of its youth by teaching juvenile offenders gardening skills and making them essential to the distribution of fresh produce to an area that had been without choices since local supermarkets closed. See their website for more information: http://www.gardenproject.org.


July 11 and 12 - Conference Evening Entertainment

joyce_rouse.jpgSisters of Earth, in their illimitable fashion, have re-defined the word ‘entertainment’ which usually involves performers giving pleasure to an audience. The evening entertainment socials at the conference were give-and-take affairs from the start. On Friday and Saturday nights the audience was given the opportunity of not only listening to the delightful music of Jan Novotka, Kathy Sherman, Joyce Rouse, Norma Luccock and the Sacred Web Singers, but all were also encouraged to sing along with any of the songs they knew.

Both performers and ‘listeners’ made comments about the great spirit of the SOE community and how energizing it was to make music together. They played for and with each other. It helped that the texts inspired by the Earth Charter were dear to the hearts of all present and succeeded in weaving together conference prayer time, work sessions, and the promise of a better future. Joyce Rouse coordinated the entertainment evenings on behalf of the Conference Program Committee.
Contacts:
Joyce Rouse http://www.earthmama.org
Jan Novotka http://www.jannovotka.com

Kathy Sherman http://www.ministryofthearts.org

For more information about the Sacred Web Singers contact Norma Luccock: nluccock@hotmail.com


July 13 – SOE MEETING AND DIRECTION-SETTING
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Throughout the weekend participants were invited to respond to the question:
What kind of networking suits us best at this planetary moment?
Decisions:

  1. SOE will meet in 2010 as an international group, likely in the Northeast of USA.
  2. SOE will work on self-organizing with regional groups where possible.
  3. SOE will stay connected electronically.
  4. SOE affirmed, in principle, the 'Land Ethic' statement.
The following committees were formed:
  1. Working Committee for 2010 Conference:
    Co-coordinators - Cathy Coyne, Sylvia Verde, Gail Warcelo
    with Allysyn Kiplinger, Mary Ann Garisto, Mary Elizabeth Clark, Roselli Tria, CJ Willie, Bernadette Bostwick, Jan Novotka, Pat Siemen
  2. Consultant role for 2010 Conference: Toni Nash
  3. Speakers Resource Committee: Sarah McFarland Taylor
  4. Electronic Connections: Maureen Wild, Pam Flaherty, Mary Ann Srnka, Lucy Slinger, Mary Alice Dooley, Carol Fox, Helen Power, Mina Gaskell


LAND ETHIC STATEMENT

affirmed by the Sisters of Earth Conference, July 10-13, 2008, Los Gatos, CA

We, the Sisters of Earth, call on all congregations and friends to commit to creating and implementing an articulated Land Ethic and Land Use Practice that is grounded in the recognition of the inherent sacred value of land to which we hold title. This time of planetary urgency requires that our decision-making regarding land be grounded in reverence and justice for all living systems today and into the future. We applaud and affirm all those communities and individuals who have already implemented actions such as land trusts, conservation easements, and regenerative Earth practices.

Two ‘Land Ethic’ documents were offered as exemplars: “To Care for Earth—A Land Ethic” [of the Dominican Sisters of St. Catherine, KY] and “Land Ethic And Land Use Policy” [of the Sisters of Charity of New York].
http://home.comcast.net/~cryspr/html/rlcresourcedominiclandethic.htm
http://www.scny.org/ecological_orgs.html