I’m currently in Garrison, NY, serving as a GreenFaith fellow. This is our second of three retreats together, and this one is at a beautiful and simple former monastery called the Garrison Institute, about an hour and a half from New York City. GreenFaith is an organization that encourages and facilitates interfaith action on environmental care, and each year there is a cohort of fellows who are leaders from their faith communities, willing to learn more and implement ideas at the community level.
The first retreat was in November in Newark, NJ, and we learned about environmental justice and environmental racism. This retreat focuses on connections with the Divine in nature, as well as helpful ways to communicate about climate change and environmental concerns with people of faith. Our cohort has people from various Christian traditions, as well as Jews, a Muslim, a Ba’hai, and Buddhists. It’s fun to see people again, and it’s encouraging to hear about their work.
This evening, we shared what we’ve been up to since the last retreat. It was amazing to hear about all the different types of environmental activism, large and small, represented by this group of 20 or so people. Some are working on fossil fuel divestment and against natural gas fracking wells, others are implementing green options in their buildings and worship services. Some are partnering with local groups to hold polluters accountable. Others are working with kids to teach them about soil and the wonder of creation. Each person’s work is fascinating and inspiring.
Later we shared about a time we’ve encountered God or had a meaningful experience in nature. In many ways this was like a gathered Quaker meeting, each one who wanted to share offering their piece, and the Spirit present and evident. We all felt the communion of shared understanding and connection. We know internally what one another are speaking of. We recognize that of God in one another, as Quakers say. We rejoiced with one another’s moments of sublime encounter, mourned with one another’s moments of grief and loss, and connected with the expansive Mystery who speaks to us through creation of things that go beyond words. We felt the simultaneous ecstasy of these transcendent moments and deep sorrow at the degradation of this beautiful gift that we see around us, and in which we are complicit. We named despair, and in telling our stories we activated hope.
Although this retreat center isn’t exactly a five-star hotel, it is quite nice in a monastic style, and it has a sauna! After a red-eye flight last night and a day in the airport, then driving, then sitting in meetings, I took the opportunity for some self-care and sat in the sauna to sweat for 15 minutes. Sweating out the toxins and breathing the purifying steamy air, I feel grateful.