Our hearts are opened wide for Earth

Our hearts are opened wide;
our steps are sanctified
for a new chapter in our lives.

Our hearts are opened
Programs revealed the impact that colonization has had, and continues to have, on indigenous people.

This was the last stanza of the final song of the closing ritual of the Sisters of Earth (SOE) 2016 conference, held at Presentation Center in Los Gatos, California. From July 7-10, about 72 women (Sisters with religious vows and sisters with other life commitments) gathered to share wisdom and shape a dream for our Earth. The conference theme was “Zest for Life: Partnering with our Sacred Earth Community.”

Our hearts are opened to sacred space

A variety of rituals, presentations, group interactions and informal conversations created a truly sacred space for our work together. I was enlightened, inspired, energized by the courage and dedication of the indigenous women who presented to us, and by the enthusiasm and commitment of the other participants.

Our hearts are openedI was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the unjust and destructive systems at work in our world. And my heart felt bruised and battered by the experiences that are the daily life of so many of our sisters and brothers. Our presenters were five remarkable indigenous women – one from Alberta, Canada; three from New Mexico; one from nearby Indian Canyon. A Medical Mission Sister represented the two tribes of indigenous peoples with whom she works in Peru.

The first day began as our presenters from the Southwest drew us into the painful awareness of what colonization did to them, how its effects have been passed down from generation to generation, and how it continues its destruction today.

Colonization in this country did not begin with the arrival of the Spanish soldiers and missionaries and end a few hundred years later.Our hearts are opened

Colonization has continued to this day, with a different face. Today it is powerful and greedy industries buying politicians who find loopholes or look the other way while indigenous people are robbed of their land and their way of life.

Our hearts are opened to balance and resiliency

In the name of strip-mining and fracking for oil, their forests are cut down, top-soil trucked away, air and waters polluted with toxic waste. The sick and deformed fish cannot be eaten, the land can no longer be farmed and the sick and poisoned animals cannot be used for food.

Our hearts are opened
Melina Laboucan-Massimo, Lubicon Cree First Nation, Little Buffalo, Alberta, Canada, spoke of balance and resiliency.

The people themselves are developing lung problems and cancers. The resources that sustained a people and their culture are destroyed. The culture dies and the people die. Another form of genocide.

In the midst of feeling really overwhelmed by all the “bad news,” our presenter from Alberta, Melina Laboucan-Massimo, who is an advocate for the people adversely affected (that’s an understatement) by the tar sands fracking, spoke of balance … of resiliency!

Our hearts are opened to working toward something

She said that a wise man of her people told her to watch where she places her energy. Don’t just fight “against;” work “toward” something else, something positive and constructive. This brings balance and resiliency, so important in work for justice and the sustainability of our Planet.

I was really touched by her words and example – she succeeded in bringing solar energy to the reservation school. My spirit lightened and I felt a return of energy and enthusiasm. Perhaps this is possible after all.

Our hearts are opened
Our presenter from Peru, Birgit Weiler, spoke of leading a good and fulfilling life, of having a horizon we continually walk toward, of maintaining an energizing vision … that another world is possible.

In addition to addressing the struggles of her people, our presenter from Peru spoke of leading a good and fulfilling life, of having a horizon we continually walk toward, of maintaining an energizing vision … that another world is possible.

Our hearts are opened to the call to a good life

I resonated with her words and the encouragement to feel deep within the call to a good life, to discernment, to really striving together to understand one another and walk together. Live simple and thus well. Be grateful.

While there was a lot of content presented over the days, for me it was the experience of all of it – especially the persons that I have taken away with me. I experienced how true it is that the degradation of the Planet degrades the People also; and the degradation of the People contributes to the degradation of the Planet. Justice for the Earth and justice for the People are inseparable and both must be addressed.

Our hearts are opened
From left: Melina Laboucan-Massimo, Lubicon Cree First Nation, Little Buffalo, Alberta, Canada; Birgit Weiler, who represented the Awajun and Wampis People in the Amazon region of Peru; Beata Tsosie-Pena, Santa Clara Pueblo, Espanola, New Mexico.

The women who spoke with us are actively engaged in activism for justice. And, they are looking to us – their sisters – to partner with them in calling for change. I ask myself: How do I contribute to any of this wrong-doing? What am I called to do to influence life in our Sacred Earth Community?

Never doubt
that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens
can change the world.
Indeed it’s the only thing
that ever has.

(Margaret Mead, anthropologist)

“Courage … Go forth ….” Saint Mary Euphrasia

Janice Rushman

Janice Rushman

Janice Rushman is an Apostolic Sister of the Good Shepherd. Her Good Shepherd ministries have included working with girls in residential programs, working with the Comboni Missionaries in Appalachia and assisting women trying to reclaim their lives from prostitution and drug addiction.