What Did We Do to Save the Earth? a Guest Post by Sister Mary P., RSM

By Sister Mary P., RSM

It’s 3:23 in the morning and I’m awake, because my great, great grandchildren won’t let me sleep.  My great, great grandchildren ask me in dreams, ‘What did you do while the planet was plundered? What did you do when the Earth was unraveling? Surely you did something when the seasons started failing, as the mammals, reptiles, birds were all dying. Did you fill the streets with protest when democracy was stolen? What did you do, once you knew?”

~Drew Dellinger in Hieroglyphic Stairway

Not having grandchildren or great grandchildren doesn’t let me off the hook.  In some ways, I ask Drew’s questions of myself on behalf of all children, the two legged, the four legged, the winged, and they sit heavy in my heart.  “What did you do, once you knew?”

The realization that I can never do enough in time to change the course we’re on weighs me with sadness.  I think there was a time when I naively thought I, we, the Sisters of Mercy, the government, someone, would wake up in time — in time to save the trees, the oceans, the animals, the children of the future. Instead, I think, we can’t fix it.

Now I am caught in an awkward space between two worlds: the Cenozoic, the one I love, the most astounding creativity Earth has ever expressed; and the new Ecozoic, a term coined by Thomas Berry to indicate the new era of a mutually enhancing human-Earth community. This world is coming into existence even as the other is diminishing, the one in which we will have to prioritize life issues in a different way because the world is spinning us into the unknown and the unfamiliar.  The world is catapulting us into a major shift in perception. What would a “vibrant Earth Community” look like? How would it feel to let comprehensive compassion flow through us? What if our conduct were guided by an ideal, not a heaven, but an integral Earth Community?

Genesis Farm’s recent newsletter speaks of “entering our chrysalis moment.” I think it is our personal and collective chrysalis moment, a moment of transformation.  Transformations in our Universe are usually accompanied by cataclysm, death, annihilation of one sort and the birthing of something radically different.  I think about the death of a supernova and the birth of our solar system. I think of Resurrection in a new context. Earth appears to be hurtling toward a breakthrough moment. No quiet cocoon for her!  Instead, a sixth great extinction is occurring. The temperatures say it’s the warmest year on record. Storms and tornadoes and flooding, oh my!

Pema Chodron says “Fear is a natural reaction to moving toward the truth.”  Is the truth that we are dying, or is the truth that we are being re-birthed, as Barbara Marx Hubbard suggests? Here I am, finally aware that I am not “other than Earth,” but a genuine mode of being of Earth. What am I to do?  Do I allow the chrysalis to form and go with the cataclysm or do I rail against the death of all I hold dear? Or do I do both?

I remember attending Earth’s Passion Retreat at Crystal Spring some five years ago and the cry that year was, “The ice is melting.”  This year, we read an article in Orion Magazine by a young man named Steven Kotler who traveled to Patagonia to write about Ecopsycology. His conclusion: “I am melting.” I catch the difference.

My reading tells me we are in for a rocky ride as we are forced to abandon the structures to which we have held on: the growth economy, the petroleum era, a stable climate, endless resources…so many others…already gone!

I look at what is emerging from the young: Tim DeChristopher, climate activist, jailed for bidding on 22,500 acres at an oil and gas lease auction.  He said to the judge, “I do not want mercy; I want you to join me! This is what hope looks like.  This is what love looks like!”

I follow the iMatter movement of youth across the country, who are suing the government on behalf of Nature’s Trust. I oppose anything that threatens their water, their air, their soil and seed. They have a right to be here, these kids, more aware at 16 than I am at 65! They will create the new. They will not keep slapping on the old solutions. I trust them, but I also fear for them. Cataclysm isn’t something I’m used to embracing.

Where do we go from here and what is possible for the future? I guess we keep showing up, carrying our protest signs. We meditate. We take action whenever we can on behalf of the whole. We relinquish what can no longer be held in the old wine skins, and some of it has been sacred to us.  We take our place among the many.  We lean our backs against a tree and listen. We align ourselves with the spirit of Earth and get ready for the journey.

We must go forward as community, but it is a much larger community!

It is now unthinkable that any women’s congregation should not be committed as a primary concern and purpose to the natural world.
If the life systems are not saved then everything else is irrelevant.”

~Thomas Berry in Women Religious: Their Future Role


The Sisters of Mercy of the Americas is an international community of women religious vowed to serve people who suffer from poverty, sickness and lack of education with a special concern for women and children. This post was originally published on the Connect with Mercy blog in recognition of Earth Day 2012.

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