A spirituality of creation
Emma reflects on her week spent on a permaculture farm and what this might teach her and all of us about the environmental issues we face.
In summer 2019, I participated in “ecoMagis”, a week-long project organised by the Jesuits in Britain for young adults. The week itself was a cross-over between a retreat and an ‘experience week’, and was inspired by Pope Francis’ encyclical ‘Laudato Si’, with a focus on sustainable living both as individuals and as a society.
What is permaculture?
The week took place on a permaculture farm, and our daily activities usually consisted of a combination of working on the farm, sessions giving more theoretical input on environmental issues, and Ignatian-style prayer sessions. I went into the week not even knowing what permaculture was (turns out it is a set of principles surrounding sustainable agriculture, based on the processes observed in natural systems) so the week was a bit of an eye-opener for me to the world of sustainable living and methods of approaching the environment.
Ideas for everyday life
While on the experience week we learnt a lot about the practical side of sustainable living, for example what to think about when you buy food, or considering how clothes or domestic items have been produced or packaged. Unfortunately, as a student with no back garden, there is no way I will be able to start my own miniature permaculture farm in the foreseeable future! However, the Magis week however has given me several ideas that I hope I will be able to transfer into my everyday life.
Sustainability and spirituality
Through the input sessions, we also considered the wider societal approaches towards sustainability, and the ethics of our current attitude towards the environment. Something that struck me during these discussions was the importance of a spiritual aspect in our move towards sustainable living: when viewed through a totally secular lens it appeared to me that the switch towards sustainability is a requirement for human self-preservation, which is going to be an inconvenient but necessary effort. But, if viewed with a more spiritual perspective, this change can be viewed as a real reconciliation in the relationship between humans and the rest of creation, which could have mutual benefits for the environment as well as for human wellbeing, on both an individual and societal level. As such, I now understand why it is so important that the Church and other religious organisations are involved and help lead the way on these discussions, and why it is very much our job as Christians to be actively participating in the change towards sustainable living.
The joy of physical tasks
During the week, we were involved in practical projects on the farm, such as planting a forest garden, digging ditches and making mulches (basically turning grass back to soil). During these jobs, I rediscovered the joy that comes with doing fairly simple, physical tasks when you are actually present to the tasks in that moment. I also appreciated the work ethic that our hosts, Iona and Mungo, set us off with at the start of the week: that work is love in action, and that there is always going to be another job that needs doing, so we should do what we feel able to do, but not feel pressured to complete all the jobs in one session. I found this attitude to work really helpful (and something I hope I will take back my university studies!), as while it did feel like we were making progress, what could have felt like quite menial, labour intensive tasks, were actually very enjoyable.
Living in the moment
At the beginning of the week, Iona and Mungo set us a handful of challenges, ranging from no phones, to trying to take cold showers (we were more enthusiastic about some of these than others…). However for me the most interesting and rewarding of these challenges was to put away our watches and other time telling devices for the week and to just live in the moment. At first, I felt a bit dubious of how this was going to work for a whole week. However I soon felt liberated by not having to watch the clock and felt like it helped me to be much more present to other people and what was going on around me.
My personal highlight for the week was the experience of living and working in community. The week brought together a real variety of people and it was so enjoyable to live and work with everyone throughout the week. Through this experience of community, I realised that an aspect of Ignatian Spirituality which I love is, that because one of the principles is to find God in all things, people who use Ignatian spirituality do all sorts of things! The people involved had such a range of personalities and backgrounds: there were people with backgrounds in education, environmental work, engineering, history, physics, medicine, as well as the more ‘churchy’ fields of theology and spiritual work. This diversity of perspectives meant that the discussions we had, whether it was in the input sessions or around the dinner table, were incredibly varied and interesting, and it was fascinating to see the different approaches offered to the issues we were discussing.
The week planted seeds
The most important thing that I will take forward from the Magis project, is the concept of having a spirituality of living with creation, and I feel that the week planted the seeds of the beginning of what that should look like. One thing that came to me during the week is that as a human, I tend to love by parts, loving things in a ‘one at a time’ sort of way, whereas when living with a spirituality of creation we need to love things as God loves them: loving things not piece by piece but as a whole; loving creation not as an ‘I’, a ‘them’ and a ‘that’, but as a ‘we’.
Going into the week, part of me thought that the discussions and projects that the Church is currently carrying out surrounding ecology and the environment, were a very nice and noble endeavour, but were a bit of a niche area within the church that I could dip in and out of as I saw fit. However, during the week I realised that all of the ecology and ‘Laudato Si’ stuff, is not an area of theological interest but a whole way of living and viewing the world, that as one of my peers on the course put ‘it’s a change we will all have to make, and one which will have to be for the rest of our lives’.
Overall the Magis week was an experience that was a delight to be a part of, which gave me many ideas, both practical and spiritual to reflect further on.