AIM journeys with the communities in their life experiences, their progress, and their trials. It also tries to stimulate reflection and discussion on monastic life face to face with the great questions of our times. Our relationship with creation is one such major topic. Technological mastery has made Nature highly vulnerable and very exposed, in the sense that it is at the mercy of all kinds of human manipulation. New ethical vistas open before us. Creation has become a new and urgent focus for responsibility. What are we going to hand down to future generations?
This double-edition is a wake-up call, a summons to discernment, to critical examination of our behaviour, to a sense of responsibility. Many monastic initiatives are described, and there are discussions on the challenge of biological farming and about fair trading.
Fr Anselm Grün underlines the importance in monastic tradition of a spirituality of creation. Monks and nuns worship the Creator of all things; they praise him and contemplate him in the beauty of creation. 'You will be caught up in the hymn of the Universe', exclaims Sr Marie-Pascale Dran ocso. This spirit already present in the psalms and the liturgy shines through in the life and work of communities. It unites heaven to earth whilst also calling for respect in the use of the environment.
In 1991, the Orthodox Sisters of Solan in Le Gard took up residence on agricultural lands where generations of farmers and vine-growers had served the Lord by their work. They, in their turn, have made some demanding choices: preserving bio-diversity, restoring the forestry in exemplary fashion, and cultivating the fruits of the earth as God would wish it. In addition, in accordance with the desire of the Patriarch of Constantinople, this community, which is a living icon of the Body of Christ, is devoting a day at the beginning of September to prayer for and dialogue about the conservation of creation. These nuns also accepted the invitation of WWF and of its President, Daniel Richard, to take part in discussions and sharing between representatives of the major religions in France.
On the other hand, at the initiative of HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, the Alliance for Religions and the Conservation of Nature (ARC) and its President, Martin Palmer, aim at uniting peoples across the spectrum of cultures, religions, and institutions. Their objective is the protection of our planet. We hope to give some account of their achievements in a future bulletin. Carol Haest's article in the present edition shows how our perception of nature can be coloured by economic considerations. Monasteries have not escaped the temptation to make excessive use of pesticides and other pollutants. Happily, we seem to have moved beyond that stage.
Reading this edition of the bulletin, one is pleasantly surprised by the richness and variety of the experiences reflected: rediscovery of the forest and of medicinal plants in Togo, the importance of water, earth, forests, bird-life...
Two extracts sum up in their own way the monastic approach to these experiences. A Cistercian brother from Vermont, USA, tells us, straight from the heart, 'As we live a simple monastic life, without external ministry or apostolate, our life is immersed in this rugged countryside. It flows along to the rhythm of the seasons..., a simple attempt by monks to take seriously the Gospel summons to embark on the adventure of loving 'the other' and to recognise in this other the presence of Christ.' He expresses himself explicitly in this fine sentence: "It is only in remaining faithful to this love which does honour to our mutual belonging to our environment, that geography becomes for us a sacrament.'
The Benedictine Sisters of Cottonwood add their testimony. 'We used to think that the Earth, like everything we care about, goes without saying. We have discovered that we had never articulated clearly what it means to possess this earth...We are beginning to feel the bond which unites us to the earth and we recognise our responsibility to respect and develop the riches which it offers us. With this in view, we undertake to adopt a way of life that makes manifest our love for the earth, to join with others who are trying to heal the wounds inflicted on our planet, to sustain our enthusiasm by an on-going education in ecology, to use our lands to make a profit in a responsible way, and to share with others the climate of peace and recollection which our environment offers. All decisions about our lands flow from this philosophy.'
Reflection, responsibility, respect, praise, adoration: these form the life rhythm of our monastic communities. A sane and balanced approach to the things of this earth opens out to the mystery of God and on the hope of a future for generations still to come.
1. A major contribution to this discussion: Hans Jonas, Le Principe Responsibilité: Une éthique pour la civilisation technologique, Cerf, Paris, 1990.
2. Ecologie et Spiritualités, account of the sessions, Mont-Saint-Michel, 2nd and 3rd April, 2003, by Thierry Thouvenot, WWF-France. Martin Neyt OSB President, AIM. Daniel Richard, President of WWF France.
"At WWF we are very alive to how monasteries are evolving. A few centuries ago, the monasteries were the reference points in villages and towns. In those days it was they who cleared the forests and dried up the marshes - which, today, are no longer ecological activities - the reverse rather! What we are looking for, with all our expertise and enthusiasm, is to find some exemplary points of sustainable development, so that the monastery itself can be an example of sustainable development in the place and amongst the people, and for the region where it has taken root." (from the proceedings of the Seminar on Ecology and Spiritualities, p.17)