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The Contemplative Call to Nature

The Work That Reconnects

Friday, April 23rd, 2021

The Contemplative Call to Nature

The Work That Reconnects
Friday, April 23, 2021

A few years ago, some members of our CAC community and I were blessed to be able to spend a week at Ghost Ranch with Joanna Macy. Joanna is a brilliant Buddhist teacher, a systems thinker, deep ecologist, and activist for peace, justice, and a healthy environment, and she led us in what she calls the Work That Reconnects. Joanna (now in her 90s) is a true elder, a woman who has dedicated her life to what she and others call The Great Turning from an Industrial Growth Society to a Life-Sustaining Society. She sees us in the middle of The Great Unraveling, what I might call an “unveiling,” which “draws attention to the disasters that Business As Usual has caused and continues to create.” [1] Ecologist Stephan Harding writes:

The Work That Reconnects is conceptualized as a spiral that maps the journey to Gaian consciousness [or deep connection with the living Earth] in four stages. The first is gratitude, in which we experience our love for life. Next is honoring our pain, in which we learn how to suffer the pain of the world with others and with the world itself. Then, in seeing with new eyes, we experience our connection with life in all its forms through all the ages. Finally, in the last stage we go forth into action in the world as open human beings, aware of our mutual belonging in the web of life, learning through feedback in our social and ecological domains. [2]

Richard here: In their book Coming Back to Life, Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown describe powerful experiential practices that take groups through each stage. I can vouch for their effectiveness! By the end of the week at Ghost Ranch many of us had made discoveries similar to those described here:

What then can we expect to take with us, as we go forth into the world and our individual lives?

  • A heightened awareness of the suffering and dangers besetting our world with a greater respect for our capacity to face them without dodging, denying or numbing out
  • An upsurge of energy as we unblock feedback loops by accepting our pain for the world, reframing it as compassion
  • A wider sense of identity as a unique and integral part of the living body of Earth
  • A growing appreciation for community—with each other, with our brother-sister species, with our ancestors and future generations. We feel supported by them as well as accountable to them
  • A stronger motivation to join with others in service to life; confidence in the power of our solidarity
  • A fresh sense of the diversity of our gifts and of the many interdependent roles to be played in the Great Turning
  • Hence, gratitude for who we are as individuals, with all our personal strengths and limitations—even our wounds—and for our desire to be of use
  • Commitment to goals extending beyond our individual lifetime; liberation from dependence on immediate, measurable results
  • Gladness in being alive now, in this epochal moment on Earth; a sense of the privilege of taking part in the Great Turning [3]

[1] Joanna Macy and Molly Brown, Coming Back to Life: The Updated Guide to The Work That Reconnects (New Society Publishers: 2014), 5.

[2] Stephan Harding, “Gaia Consciousness in the Great Turning,” in A Wild Love for the World: Joanna Macy and the Work of Our Time, ed. Stephanie Kaza (Shambhala: 2020), 15–16.

[3] Macy and Brown, Coming Back to Life, 192.

Story from Our Community:
I love how Fr. Richard’s musings link with what is unfolding now. His appreciation of nature and her heart-opening divinity is so nurturing. There is surely evidence of the interwoven cosmos in us and all around us now. Richard coaxes us toward an awareness of how we might mirror that in our daily acts, first in awareness, then perhaps in kindness—making the invisible visible together. —Allie M.

Image credit: Belinda Rain, California—San Francisco Bay Area (detail), 1972, photograph, public domain.
Image inspiration: Our siblings abound: Bird, Berry, Trout, Tree. May we honor the sacred in every being.
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