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Living in Gratitude for Mother Earth

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Joan Brown at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference.

Contemplative action combines care of the natural world with spiritual life and social justice.

November 2nd, 2022

Thirty-five years ago, Fr. Richard Rohr founded the Center for Action and Contemplation to help people on the path of praxis and prayer, action and contemplation. This month our We Conspire series explores the opportunities and challenges the and presents in our own lives.

Joan Brown, OSF, is a Franciscan sister and the executive director of New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light. In this article, she explains how contemplative action is the foundation for climate justice work.

I used to think in terms of action and contemplation like two separate things. In our culture we have too many ands that create dichotomies with best intentions being one or the other rather than and. Now I understand life and work in support of the Common Good as contemplative action — a singular, unified thing.

As we evolve as human beings and walk into a climate future filled with drought, fires, floods, food insecurity and growing migration of peoples and creatures, we must live from a spiritual center that infuses all of our lives, work, and actions. That we have not been living this way is part of our climate crisis, which is a climate of the soul crisis.

Illustration of a blue bridge

“In our culture we have too many ands that create dichotomies with best intentions being one or the other rather than and.”

—Joan Brown, osf

Our Common Home

At Interfaith Power and Light (IPL) of New Mexico and El Paso Region, we focus on climate change and climate justice. Intersecting social concerns like racism, immigration, refugees, and extinctions of species flow through our work with concern, but also with gratitude for life and reciprocity with Mother Earth — our common home.

After living and working so many years in this holy region where indigenous brothers and sisters have lived for eons, I understand just a trifle that life is the prayer and all action is to be done in a holy manner.

Several Tewa women with whom we work offered a prayer that we use often before meetings and official hearings. One line says, “Let us ground our activities in awareness of where we are and may the mannerisms of the Pueblo Peoples enter our lives and fill us with gratitude, love, care and respect for all that is shared between us and all beings.”

Illustration of a blue fire

“Our core belief is that the active care of the natural world is integral to spiritual life and social justice.”

—Joan Brown, osf

Active Care of the Natural World

Living and acting in this way is a paradigm shift that requires a change in world view and consciousness. Granted this is difficult, but we have an enormous responsibility, especially as big consumers of so much of Earth’s gifts. We also realize that our work is rooted in a deeper call of Cosmic Love and Beauty.

Our IPL mission is to work for climate justice by mobilizing faith communities, faith leaders and people of faith/conscience to reduce the causes and consequences of global climate change through religious inspiration, education, outreach, implementation of sustainable practices and advocating effective climate protection policies. Our core belief is that the active care of the natural world is integral to spiritual life and social justice.

Specifically, we invite prayer, prayerful actions, education through films, book studies, educational sessions and events. We work alongside frontline oil and gas communities in the Permian Basin. Immersion retreat experience in this region helps us engage others in solidarity actions for systemic change and engage in prayers and healing for the suffering.

Joan Brown advocates for climate justice at 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference.

“Facing a climate crisis, we must work simultaneously in the practical and spiritual plains. Our work is large and so is the invitation to community, beauty, and Love.”

—Joan Brown, osf

Practical & Spiritual Work

Getting hands dirty increases a sense of relationship and accomplishment so we work with communities on building energy efficiency, and solar installations through our Cool Congregations group. Our Sacred Land and Water and Interfaith Forest of Bliss projects focus on care of sister water, growing food for food insecure neighbors in congregations and planting trees and pollinating shrubs. More than 300 trees and shrubs have been lovingly blessed and planted.

Public policy advocacy engages many faith leaders, communities, and individuals in the legislative process at the state and federal levels. Advocacy also includes regulatory and permitting processes for clean cars, methane pollution, and clean air and water. IPL works with national network at the UN international climate meetings, especially around loss, damage and just funding for vulnerable communities in other countries.

Facing a climate crisis, we must work simultaneously in the practical and spiritual planes. Our work is large and so is the invitation to community, beauty, and Love.

Reflect With Us

What are the ways “and” creates dichotomies instead of connections in your own life? How might you be more aware and shift out of those divisions? Share your reflection with us.


Joan Brown, OSF, is a Franciscan sister from the Rochester, Minnesota community and is the Executive Director of New Mexico Interfaith Power and Light. Her ministry is infused with the beauty and joy of plants, animals, microbes, camping, walking, gardening, canning, cooking and the large community of life that inspires and offers wisdom in these challenging times.

We Conspire is a series from the Center for Action and Contemplation featuring wisdom and stories from the emerging Christian contemplative movement. Sign up for the monthly email series and receive a free invitation to practice each month.

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