from Sisters of Earth

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Sisters of Earth Reflections

Holding My Bowl of Rice and Glass of Water -

Christian Contemplative Presence in a Time of Ecological Trauma and Loss
Maureen Wild, SC


Forty years ago I sat with other Catholic elementary students holding our Lenten bowl of rice and glass of water for lunch while listening to a teacher share stories (from Development and Peace educational materials) of children in other lands who went without enough food; with rice and water if they were lucky. A ‘Jesus parable’ - like The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) – was also read. Then we ate in silence … a sense-experience and contemplative moment for our minds, hearts and bodies to take in the global realities and the spiritual lesson.

Twenty years ago I was a pastoral worker for a Catholic Church, feeding and visiting the poor in inner city Edmonton, many of whom were displaced from their lands and their people (refugees, poor immigrants, outcasts, marginalized, ‘lost’). A few years later I was teaching inner city children in Boston, aware each day of the wounded spirit they carried with the insidious trauma of racism and violence that frequented their young lives, along with their ancestral memory of slavery and displacement from their native homelands. In many ways, ‘the rice bowl and glass of water’ was symbol for the deprivation and losses experienced by inner city people.

And for more than the last decade now, my educational service and retreat work has attended to a broken earth – another sacred, broken body. In so many ways her life forms and life-sustaining elements are misperceived, objectified, abused, violated, raped, ‘enslaved’ to work for others’ disproportionate material gain, abandoned, left to die. I’m reminded of the parallel to the man beaten, robbed and left to die in the story of The Good Samaritan.

Thomas Berry is noted for saying that if we don’t recover the sense of Earth as sacred, then we are truly lost. We are most certainly being called to a deep change of heart, a cultural metanoia (1) - a total, all-encompassing reorientation of the collective self to the deepest truth of our existence.

The significance of the times we live in cannot be overstated. Crisis and opportunity meet us at an ever-accelerating pace. And one’s spiritual response most often flounders for footing with our awareness of the magnitude of human impact on the land, the water and air, and the daily fraying of the web of life. Perhaps stillness is what is most needed … stillness and presence with the creation, frequenting a solitary place to pray in nature … and resolving to relate with the natural world in a very different way – out of an expanding ecological compassion.

Matthew Fox describes compassion as the world’s richest energy source, yet largely unexplored and untapped. Describing the cosmic dimensions of compassion, Fox says that for the sake of the planet’s survival we need it more than ever. (2) We need to interpret the parable of The Good Samaritan ecologically, thinking about the interdependence of all living things. Most of us just assume that we will always have other life forms, plants and animals available for our use. We need to read the parable in the light of current realities like climate change, and living within the early stages of the sixth major period of extinction, and the impact of the tar sands industry on indigenous people and planet (3), and the harsh living conditions of peasants, small farmers, landless farmers and indigenous people all over the world …

As Christians, looking for spiritual grounding in the face of so much quickening collapse, how might we reclaim the legacy of the four primary Christian virtues as ‘spiritual tools’ for an ecologically sensitive Christian orientation? Here’s a beginning at new definitions within an ecological framework:

Ecological Prudence: growing in a biocentric philosophy of ecological harmony or equilibrium; the ability to judge between ecologically virtuous and vicious actions, not only in a general sense, but with regard to appropriate actions at a given time and place; 'joining together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace' (4)

Interspecies Justice (Earth Jurisprudence): 'advocating for healthy ecosystems and exploring the role of humans as integral members of a comprehensive Earth community; creating legal norms and dispute resolutions that foster mutual human-Earth relationships, and encouraging a fundamental rethinking of the basis of law' (5); 'strengthening local communities, enabling them to care for their environments' (6)

Greening our Fortitude: mental and emotional strength while facing ecological threats, loss and collapse (i.e. resolving to move through our fear, anger, apathy, despair, grief to a new place of strength and action on behalf of life); humility and courage to face conflicting worldviews as related to relationship with the Earth; alertness, courage, presence and service in the face of danger; honestly facing one’s own temptations and addictions to over consume so as to disarm their power

Eco-Temperance – moderation in our use of energy and water; limiting and reducing waste; limiting food choices that use large amounts of water and energy to produce and transport; abstaining from ecologically destructive and unethical behaviour; 'preventing harm as the best method of environmental protection and, when knowledge is limited, applying a precautionary approach' (7)

We might imagine that we hold a bowl of rice and a glass of water in the company of others – representatives of the human and more-than-human community of life. And with these symbols, imagine that we begin to hear the cry of the Earth from within – the cry of the elements that sustain life, of the multi-species community of life that is suffering and vanishing, and of our own human ‘collective pain-body.’ In such a contemplative moment, what might rice and water teach us as the Christian way to respond? How, now, are we called to be the ‘good and compassionate neighbour’?

1. From the Greek, metanoia, changing one's mind, repentance. In the psychological theory of Carl Jung, metanoia denotes a process of reforming the psyche as a form of self healing. The writer suggests that ‘cultural metanoia’ (cultural therapy) is an anecdote to the cultural pathology that Thomas Berry speaks of in Evening Thoughts p.17.
2. Fox, Matthew, A Spirituality Named Compassion. Compassion is creativity put to the service of justice.
3. Indigenous Environmental Network, ‘Tar Sands: Indigenous Peoples and the GIGA Project,’
4 . The Earth Charter – Values and Principles for a Sustainable Future,, Preamble
5. In February 2008 Barry Law Review, Orlando, FL, and Center for Earth Jurisprudence (of St. Thomas University) jointly hosted the first academic symposium on the theme, ‘Framing an Earth Jurisprudence for a Planet in Peril.’ Presentations considered re-contextualizing human governance systems within our absolute inter-relatedness to all creation. Challenge was made to the dominant worldview that other beings are objects, ‘natural resources,’ which reinforces disassociation from the natural world. Arguments were made in favour of the rights of nature since all beings and life-sustaining elements are part of a greater system of order, and away from the limited worldview that only humans have rights. The symposium presentations can be viewed online
6. The Earth Charter, Principle IV(13)f
7. The Earth Charter, Principle II(6)

Copyright © 2008 by Pax Gaia Initiatives


Maureen Wild, SC, M.Ed, is an international freelance speaker, writer and retreat guide who, for twenty years, has focused on themes of a new cosmology and deep ecology, and their interface with topics of spirituality, healing, justice, ethics and Christianity. She is former director of Genesis Farm Ecological Learning Center in New Jersey and was the founding director for the Centre for Earth and Spirit on Vancouver Island. She is one of the Catholic Sisters featured in the book Green Sisters: A Spiritual Ecology (Harvard University Press, 2007). Her current focus is on the development of Pax Gaia Educational and Retreat Initiatives. Email:

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