Ecological Conversion and Spirituality are concepts Pope Francis speaks about in his encyclical Laudato Si. As Sister Virginia Gordon read the Encyclical she said that she began reflecting on these two concepts and what they mean in today’s society. She said, “These reflections on Ecological Conversion and Spirituality caused me to think of my own foundation of spirituality for life. I would like to share some of my childhood remembrances with you. Maybe they will inspire you to think of your own development of a spirituality for life.” Here is the story of how Sister Virginia found ecological conversion and spirituality at a very young age while growing up on a potato farm in New Jersey.
I was born on a small farm in rural New Jersey. All around us were many other farms. My grandfather planted potatoes, wheat, soy beans and corn. My grandmother raised chickens and sold eggs to other farmers. I often watched as my grandfather tended the earth getting it ready for planting. Each seed was precious and put into the ground carefully.
I learned patience through ecological conversion
He watered and patiently waited for the tiny shoots of new life. Many times I observed the worried lines on his face as it failed to rain. He went out in all kinds of weather to observe the new growth. I learned patience while watching his care for new life. Often his lips moved silently as he prayed for enough harvest to meet the year’s expenses.
My grandmother’s relationship with the chickens was mutual and personal. When she came out the kitchen door, she would call “here chickey, chickey,” and chickens came running from all parts of the fields so they could enjoy the small morsels of food from the dish water.
I also would watch as she gently cared for her flowers. They say grandmom had a green thumb but I like to say she had a great love of these flowers. For her they were a reflection of her God. I know, because I observed her beautiful smile as she gently walked among the flowerbeds and the way she cared for her flowers. Through her example I learned to respect all living things and to see the goodness of God among us. My grandparents’ care of the earth was passed on to my father and also to me. I am grateful.
I learned respect and the meaning of sharing through ecological conversion
My job at ‘picking time’ was to follow the digger and rescue any potato that had fallen off the hill, so it would not be crushed when the digger returned. I remember holding the stray potato in my hands and enjoying the smell of the new potato and the soil it grew in. We worked side by side with all the pickers, who were migrants and the poor from the area. This is where I learned my respect for all different cultures and peoples.
Often grandmom cooked breakfast for us before we went to the fields. Many of the pickers joined us. On Saturdays the pickers worked half a day and took home half of what they picked. I learned the meaning of sharing.
I ran free through the fields and watched the butterflies land on the milkweed pods. When the milkweed matured and the pods opened, soft silky feather-like insides would appear. I would pick some to make a pillow for my rag doll. I blew other silky threads into the air and sent prayers with them for some poor child in Africa or wherever they landed.
I spent hours sitting under my favorite tree watching little creatures playing in the grass. Birds sang in the tree above me and mother birds fed their babies. I used to pretend they were singing for me. I would look up and watch the clouds moving in the sky and imagine all kinds of mysteries and stories. In the field across the road from us foxes, deer, rabbits and pheasants lived. Down the road there was a turkey farm where the turkeys ran around free. I often enjoyed running around with them and laughed at the funny sounds they made when excited.
On the farm behind us there were cows, who supplied our milk and it was my job to go each day and carry the milk home. I enjoyed chatting with the elderly couple who owned the farm.
I learned the songs of insects through ecological conversion
At night the fireflies came out and lit up the fields. Their dances of light fascinated me. There weren’t any loud noises in the country at night, so the singing of the insects could be heard. I learned their different songs.
Because there were no bright lights in the country, the sky was clear and the wonders of the heavens were visible. It was so thrilling to lay on the ground and watch these marvels in the skies. What joy and squeals of delight when I saw a shooting star run across the sky.
So, I realize now that the foundation of my own spirituality for life began on that small potato farm. The holy dirt, its smell and feel in my hands, developed into my desire to walk gently on this earth.
Love of the earth was cultivated in me as a child. Respect for all life was imprinted in me early in my life. It has carried me through the concrete times of my life. My spirituality of life continues to grow and deepen. I thank God for my childhood, spent on a small farm in New Jersey.
Several years ago I visited the area where our farm was located. I was shocked! I got lost trying to travel among concrete, once fields where I and the chickens had run free. The wheat, soy bean and potato fields were now houses and a four lane highway replaced the small road in front of our homestead. All is gone, especially the soil I loved to feel and smell. The holy dirt is buried way down deep under concrete.
Present day spirituality
I wonder how many other farms are lost to large companies that now grow our food? All of my relatives no longer farm because they could not keep up with the take-over by large corporations. What spirituality of life is present in the factory farms that treat animals as commodities? What respect for life does Monsanto and other large corporations have for God’s creation?
Don’t you think that our present day spirituality must include the conversion of our harmful habits of consumption?
In Laudatio Si, Pope Francis encourages us to ecological conversion and a spirituality of life that can heal our Common Home. He especially encourages us to develop a spirituality for all life. Living a more simple lifestyle is a beginning.
If Saint Mary Euphrasia were living today, I imagine her saying to us:
Courage, go forward and save the soul of the earth and all living creatures.