GREEN CHRISTIAN RETREAT
George Dow reports on the 2017 GC Ringsfield Retreat
Over the weekend of 9th to 11th June twenty four people attended a Green Christian retreat at Ringsfield Hall in Suffolk. The event, entitled “Learning to Live in Earth as our Common Home: Teilhard de Chardin and ecological living as spiritual life” was led by Paul Maiteny, an ecologist, anthropologist and transpersonal psychotherapist from The British Teilhard Association.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest and one of the pioneers of eco-faith, began exploring God’s purposes for the earth and for humanity nearly a century ago. Our world may seem very different today, but in many ways his mystical message of hope is only now coming into its own. It holds both challenge and promise for anyone who cares for the Earth in the 21st century.
At the introductory session on Friday evening Paul generously shared his own life journey and offered us insights into the interconnectedness of humans and the rest of the ecosystem and that in finding our place and purpose (or ‘shape’) within the ecosystem meant that we (as individuals) would essentially be working with it and not against it. And we were reminded of the words of St Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:21 (“The eye cannot say to the hand ‘I have no need of you …..’”) and a similar sentiment relating to interconnectedness of all parts of the ecosystem was made by Teilhard. Paul M described this discovery of our interconnectedness as a ‘messianic moment’ and the ecosystem as a ‘planetary incarnation’. When we found our own ‘true shape’ we would (as individuals) become free.
Paul described what he himself had discovered on a 30 day silent retreat which comprised 4 stages:
(1) Acknowledging our sense of sin (recognising that’s ‘something’s not right in the world’ and that we are contributing to it)
(2) Becoming aware of a sense of being drawn to a calling to act (what am I here for?)
(3) Having discovered what that is, finding that there are barriers to acting (coming up against the world)
(4) Completion (reaching the place of contemplation of divine love).
During the weekend we would begin to get a flavour of the first 2 stages and share with each other our thoughts and feelings and perhaps might get a glimpse of what our true shape might be within the ecosystem and how that may impact our future actions.
Day two (as with other sessions) began with the lighting of 3 candles – should we use wood (matches) or fossil fuels (a lighter)?! – and a Sufi breathing exercise when we reflected on the 4 elements and the spirit which holds them all together. And we were asked to share seminal moments in our lives.
The whole evolutionary project had resulted in only humans – each a tiny speck in the universe – being conscious of our evolution. We are so tiny, yet we have this ability. This is the counterargument against the one which states that because we are so tiny a speck, we somehow are not important.
Yet we have become the harming (and self-harming) part of the universe. Misaligned due to the fall, we have become deluded to believe that it is all about us – and not about our ability to serve the eco-community – this is sin.
Paul then showed the ‘Prisoners of the Sun’ documentary film, followed by a discussion on ‘growth’ and the view that within the ecosystem it is only humans who have embraced the concept of limitless growth as a fundamental principle of our present economic system. This contrasts so harshly with the restrained growth (consumption) of nature, as shown in the film when the wild animals stopped hunting when their hunger had been satisfied.
As everything about us grows, everything around us decreases – it has to – and something about humanity gets smaller too. How can we return from the fall so that (like the rest of nature) know why we are?
With some cultures having been educated (or ‘developed’) towards extinction, others have been simply wiped out (eg in the case of Native Americans). As we lift the limits of our solar powered world (into the realms of fossil fuels with their millions of years of stored sunshine) there will be no limit to our greed.
What has made it so hard for us to evolve into people who are entranced by the earth? It is clear that we need to impose limits to growth but why is this so difficult? Are our natural instincts just too strong? It seems that it is always harder to evolve than to resort to habitual instinct.
There is a clear clarion call to readjust or realign our place in nature, not as observers but as participants. Our task is not to save the planet but rather our souls.
Saturday’s afternoon session was largely outside, being in nature and, following stage (2) above, we were asked to go beyond our comfort zones and capture what we experience through our senses in deeply immersing ourselves in the natural surroundings of our choice.
While many attendees found this part of the session moving, we all found it difficult to then come back inside and attempt to articulate what we experienced and how that ‘discovery’ might impact our future actions.
What happened during our contemplative walk? Any messages for our everyday life? Has it resulted in our yearning for our niche (our true shape) and what might this look like? These were very challenging questions which might need some time to work through.
As ever with Green Christian retreats, Saturday evening meant more sharing – this time around the campfire – songs, poems, prayers ….. some deep, some funny …. and a game which involved finding out a little more about participants’ past misdemeanours (what’s the naughtiest thing you’ve ever done?!)
(‘Trinity Sunday’) saw the fruits of our struggle to articulate what we experienced during the nature contemplation. (I felt that with hindsight I had needed to experience the difficulty in order to taste the fruit).
We were again asked to go outside and bring back something (from the natural world or words) which most deeply symbolised what we had discovered for us (as individuals) from the weekend. Something which would reflect who we are and what we (as individuals) need to do to overcome that might be holding us back. All in the first person.
This resulted in generously shared personal insights (which will not be described here).
The weekend ended with a shared Eucharist in the wood.
This was a challenging retreat which has for many begun a period of reflection and discovering what our true shape might be and how we might apply it in our lives, our churches and our wider communities.
Our deep gratitude goes to Paul who showed great courage, generosity and wisdom in leading the weekend. And also to Chris Walton (GC’s Chaplain) in leading the Sunday morning service and dealing with all the administration. May God bless both of you.
Amongst the references mentioned by Paul over the weekend were:
Teilhard de Chardin – ‘The Divine Milieu’
Pope Francis – ‘Laudato Si – on care for our common home’
Ray Rappaport – on human ecology
Anthony Duncan – ‘Lord of the Dance’
‘Prisoners of the Sun’ – a BBC film from the early 1990’s – Google ‘YouTube prisoners of the sun documentary’
George A Aschenbrenner SJ – ‘Stretched for Greater Glory’ – Ignatian spiritual exercises
Laura Riding Jackson – ‘The Telling’