“When we enter the landscape to learn something, we are obligated, I think, to pay attention rather than constantly to pose questions. To approach the land as we would a person, by opening an intelligent conversation. And to stay in one place, to make of that one, long observation a fully dilated experience. We will always be rewarded if we give the land credit for more than we imagine, and if we imagine it as being more complex even than language. In these ways we begin, I think, to find a home, to sense how to fit a place.” – Barry Lopez in The Rediscovery of North America. NY: Vintage/Random House, 1992.
The above was our reading for Midday prayer on October 8, 2019 from the book 100 Ways to Keep Your Soul Alive: Living Deeply and Fully Every Day [Edited by Frederic & Mary Ann Brussat. HarperSanFrancisco, 1994 p. 28] The last sentence especially caught my attention. Through our promise of stability, “staying in one place,” and our call to care for the earth, we, Benedictines “find a home” and “sense how to fit a place.” Over the 66 years that the Benedictine sisters at Holy Wisdom have been in this place we have paid attention to the land.
Years ago, the sisters noticed the water running through the land with the spring rains. In the 70’s we created grass waterways. In the 90’s we began planting prairie and built a detention basin. We also worked with Westport Township, the Bruce Company and the DNR to restore Lost Lake and re-route the drainage in the neighborhood to enter Lost Lake through a natural filtration system. With this help, the land can now retain the water where it lands.
Listening to the land in the 80’s, the sisters planted trees to stem erosion on hillsides. The land now has pine woods and an increased area of oak savanna to hold the hillsides in place. We continue the work to restore the highly endangered oak savanna on the property. I walked through the savanna recently and noticed many birds flitting among the slash piles and prairie plants that grew up this year with the increased light getting to the forest floor.
As an expression of hospitality, we invite others into this conversation with the land. A couple of weeks ago, Sister Denise West and I hosted an eco-spirituality retreat for the campus ministries at Lawrence University, St. Norbert’s College and Pres House at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Twenty-one people spent the day learning about the restoration work at Holy Wisdom, picking prairie seed, sharing our own conversations with the land. We talked about our relationships with the land and its impact on our spiritual lives.
Here are a few comments from participants including a link to a podcast we drew on that everyone listened to before coming.
“I think the interaction with nature allows people to develop a deeper connection with who they are and what they consume.”
“I felt like it was a great intro to eco-spirituality from the sisters’ specific perspective as well as in regards to indigenous knowledge. People from many backgrounds would feel comfortable in this space, I imagine.”
“The podcast [For the Wild podcast with Robin Wall Kimmerer http://forthewild.world/listen/robin-wall-kimmerer-on-indigenous-knowledge-for-earth-healing-35-encore?rq=robin%20wall] gave us an intellectual background, as did our guides Lynne and Denise, and the physical, repetitive act of harvesting seeds intentionally made it a spiritual and relational exercise rather than a repetitive, non-conscious action.”
The land was our conversation partner that day. It guided us into getting to know both itself and one another better. I invite you to consider your own conversation with the land.