In the twelve years since its commissioning by the sisters, the Passion of the Earth art and poetry installation at Spirit Center has inspired thousands of guests and retreatants, guiding them in a cosmology celebrating God’s creativity despite the human capacity for destruction of the earth. The seven-part progression is a reckoning with human greed while affirming the enduring abundance of God and unfailing invitation to become expressions of hope and healing.
The project is a collaboration of art and text by Sister Teresa Jackson and artist Melanie Weidner, a Quaker. Sister Teresa envisioned the project after encountering a community in Maine that had created a “cosmic walk” inspired by Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme’s Story of Creation as well as the Catholic Stations of the Cross.
“I thought it would be interesting to take those two ideas,” says Sister Teresa, “the ideas of the story of creation as it is being told now and the idea of the passion of Christ and blend it into: What is the passion of the earth? What is the suffering of the earth as we misuse it? What is the passion of God in creating this beautiful gift that is our planet, our earth? Poetry and art have the power to help people think in completely new ways. My hope has been that in doing the project this way that it will open up new vistas, new ways of understanding and living that people may not have experienced otherwise.”
Quaker artist Melanie Weidner illustrated the seven story parts, or stations, in fabric design. She began with sketches that incorporated the intended installation site in Spirit Center — which had not yet been built. Her creative journey included a devastating car accident in which the fabric for the art was recovered from the wreckage and she experienced more deeply the hope and recovery that can come from destruction.
“This is a transformative story, a justice-making story,” says Melanie Weidner, “to speak up for the voice of the earth. This is where spirituality and prayer and the contemplative and art all come together. What we want to do is inspire people: that this planet, this whole story of 14 billion years is all about dying and rebirthing and how can we be a part of the rebirthing?”
The piece expresses the sisters’ values for caring for the land. Guests at Spirit Center experience environmental stewardship and a tenderness toward nature that supports transformation and growth. They are invited to return to their lives with deeper reverence for creation and devotion to the earth’s care.
“The gift is our land and our community,” says Sister Lillian Englert of the Spirituality Ministry team. “Retreatants that come here will be surrounded by the sensations of nature. We come to know God through nature. Nature gets us away from our littleness.”
Sister Meg Sass, who coordinated the construction of Spirit Center adds, “That’s what we wanted the new Spirit Center to say: this is going to be a place where things are changed, things are transformed. Transformation, as eager as we are for it, is hard and the strength to go through it comes from seeing other things and other people that go through it: mountains shaped by glaciers or a blade of grass that changes a little bit of rock into soil. Nature models and mirrors transformation.”
“You’re going to take care of what you love,” says Sister Carol Ann Wassmuth, coordinator of the Monastery’s Care of the Land committee. “That is such a strong part of being Benedictine. As Benedictines we make a solemn promise to be stable, stay put, not move somewhere else. We know we are a part of the whole ecosystem that happens here. We have a passion for the earth and the earth has a passion for us. It’s a giving, mutual relationship.”
Sister Mary Kay Henry (who passed away in 2010) led retreats in the new cosmology articulated by Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme. “We certainly see this whole Passion of the Earth project as going beyond the artwork and the text. We see it as the foundation for a much larger project that shares a new vision of spirituality and how we connect in our relationship with God and relationship with the earth. This new cosmology recognizes the ongoing development of the universe and it sees human beings as creatures of amazing beauty, profound powers, and awesome responsibility. When I look at the Passion of the Earth in Spirit Center I find myself drawn into a cosmology that rests on interdependence. It requires all the creatures bringing their best in order for this story that God has in mind to reveal itself, to unfold. We can always make a new choice, and that right in the painful parts of the human experience is where God’s abundance keeps coming. God doesn’t go away — God keeps creating.”
The retreat, “The Passion of the Earth: A New Story of Creation,” is coming up on April 28-30, 2017. Learn more and register…