“A spirit of reverence for all creation permeates the Rule, together with a sense of oneness with the land, the days and the seasons. Such conscious respect for all created goods makes it impossible to pollute the land, water or air; to waste resources or to forget about the children who will one day inhabit the earth.”
– from Of All Good Gifts, a Statement from the Conference
of American Benedictine Prioresses, June 1980
People relate to the environment in various ways. In years past, humans viewed the environment as the ultimate source of life, a necessary factor in their continued existence on earth. Reverence for the environment and its fruits was common and ties to the earth were strong. Those human relationships with the environment, however, deteriorated. People continued to use the environment but many simply ignored their responsibility for it.
The devastating effects of human life on the environment become more apparent every day. More people are beginning to notice the need to repair the damage humans have inflicted. They express a concern for the earth’s well being in different ways: donating money to an environmental fund, reading articles on the green movement or, perhaps, arguing for the benefits of hybrid vehicles. For some, it remains a mere concern while others make a deeper commitment by integrating care for the earth into their daily lives.
This integration is called eco-spirituality. Found in all spiritual traditions across the globe, including Native American, Judaic, Islamic, Taoist and Christian, eco-spirituality stems from the belief that the divine is present in all creation and that humans must remain acutely aware of the web of nterconnections among all that exist. A sense of responsibility for the well-being of the environment is embedded within the tenets of a follower’s daily life, creating a deep commitment to the earth and its state of being. Followers of eco-spirituality let go of their private ego in favor of a self that is connected to the whole of the universe, becoming a part of a larger, deeper community made of humans, animals, plants and the earth.
These tenets may seem more aligned with some religious practices than others, yet eco-spirituality has manifested itself in the hearts and minds of countless individuals of diverse religious beliefs: from the native and shamanic traditions of animal and plant spirits to the Buddhist belief that all creatures on earth are one to a Christian practice of caring for the earth.
Benedictines, as Christian monastics, have long understood the need for humans to care for the earth. Emerging in the 6th century, the Benedictines believed that intellectual and spiritual activity was associated with physical work, particularly work related to the land. They placed an emphasis on cultivating the soil and learning about it. That focus yielded a custodial relationship of the human community with the land. To this day, working and protecting the surrounding environment remains a core element of Benedictine spirituality.
Humanity and nature flourish based on a delicate balance. When humans care for the environment, nature reciprocates by supporting people physically and spiritually. The earth is calling out for help. How will you answer that call?
For Benedictine Women of Madison, the ultimate aim in caring for the land is to protect and create a place where all people can experience both emotional and spiritual nourishment through the dynamic beauty and mystery of creation. Our care for the earth includes restoring lost prairie and oak savanna ecosystems and reclaiming a lake lost to soil erosion. By such work our land becomes a vital and beneficial part of the larger watershed in which it lies, and we foster a respect not only for the land and humankind but also for the God of all creation. Earth becomes a recognized source of inspiration, balance and appreciation.