Posted March 9, 2007
Book: Green Sisters: A Spiritual Ecology
Author: Sarah McFarland Taylor
Harvard University Press. Cambridge, MA. 2007. Pp. 352
An Excerpt from the Jacket:
It is perhaps the critical issue of our time: How can we, as human beings, find ethical and sustainable ways to live with one another and with other living beings on this planet? Inviting us into the world of green sisters, this book provides compelling answers from a variety of religious communities.
Green sisters are environmentally active Catholic nuns who are working to heal the earth as they cultivate new forms of religious culture. Sarah Taylor approaches this world as an “intimate outsider.” Neither Roman Catholic nor member of a religious order, she is a scholar well versed in both ethnography and American religious history who has also spent time shucking garlic and digging vegetable beds with the sisters. With her we encounter sisters in North America who are sod-busing the manicured lawns around their motherhouses to create community-sponsored organic gardens,; building alternative housing structures and hermitages from renewable materials; adopting the “green” technology of composting toilets, solar panels, fluorescent lighting, and hybrid vehicles; and turning their community properties into land trusts with wildlife sanctuaries.
Green Sisters gives us a firsthand understanding of the practice and experience of women whose lives bring together Catholicism and ecology, orthodoxy and activism, traditional theology and a passionate mission to save the planet. As green sisters explore ways of living a meaningful religious life in the face of increased cultural diversity and ecological crisis, their story offers hope for the future — and for a deeper understanding of the connection between women, religion, ecology, and culture.
An Excerpt from the Book:
Biodynamics as Sacred Agriculture
Gardening at Genesis Farm in New Jersey does not simply mean working with the soil; it means working with the energies of the land and the creative forces of the universe. The farm’s mission statement reads: “Believing in the spiritual dimension of farming, Genesis Farm promotes the concept of sacred agriculture in both its biodynamic approach and in its educational outreach.” A ministry of the Dominican sisters of Caldwell, New Jersey, and based in Blairtown, New Jersey, Genesis Farm comprises both an Earth Literacy Center and a community-supported organic, biodynamic garden. The community-supported garden, which produces weekly shares for two hundred local families year-round, is cultivated according to the principles of biodynamics, which is an agricultural founded in 1924 by Austrian metaphysician Rudolf Steiner. Only a very few sisters’ organic farms are based on and operated according to biodynamic principles.
The biodynamic approach is labor intensive: requires many years of intensive, specialized training to implement correctly; involves a complicated planting calendar; an often necessitates the hiring of a professional biodynamic farmer. Most green sisters who garden organically choose not to go this route. Nearly all the earth ministries I have mentioned have had some connection to Genesis Farm; either they have sent a sister to receive “earth literacy” training in one of the farm’s programs, had their founder do an internship at the farm, or invited Mirian MacGillis to speak with or lead a workshop for the group. MacGillis is also a Sister of the Earth and was a keynote speaker at one of the network’s early conferences, so she is often consulted by other Sisters of Earth for advice, especially regarding farming projects. Essentially then, Genesis Farm has served as a highly inflential “seed community” that has led to the development of many other earth ministries. Even sisters who have chosen to design and cultivate their gardens according to different agricultural approaches are still likely to have some familiarity with Genesis Farm, biodynamics, and MacGillis’s articles, audiotapes, or videotapes.
The Genesis Farm Community Supported Garden Handbook identifies these key aspects of biodynamics:
Broad Perspective: Since plants are utterly open to and formed by influences from the depths of the earth to the heights of the heavens, our considerations in agriculture must incorporate a broad perspective.
Reading the Book of Nature: Everything in nature reveals something of its essential character in its form and gesture, revealed through careful observation.
Cosmic Rhythms: The light of the sun, moon, planets and stars reaches the plants in regular rhythms and contributes to the growth of the plant. Ground preparation, sowing, cultivating and harvesting can be timed to take advantage of these rhythms.
The Life of the Soil: Biodynamics recognizes that the soil itself can be alive, and this vitality supports and affects the quality and health of the plants that grow in it. Composting and cover-cropping are crucial elements of biodynamic agriculture.
A New View of Nutrition: Since we gain our physical strength from the process of breaking down the food we eat, the more vital our food, the more it stimulates our own activity. Biodynamic gardeners aim for quality, and not only quantity.
Table of Contents:
1. The green Catholic imagination: varieties of companion planting
2. Standing their ground: from pioneering nuns to bioneering sisters
3. It isn’t easy being green: habitat, habits, and hybrids
4. “Changeless and changing” engaged monasticism in the ecozoic era
5. Nourishing the earthbody: sacramental foodways and culinary Eucharist
6. “The tractor is my pulpit”: sacred agriculture as priestly practice
7. Saving seeds: heirloom conservation and genetic sanctuaries
8. Stations of the earth: body prayer, labyrinths, and other peripatetic rituals
Conclusion: Stepping into the future