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Letters by Sarah Vekasi
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Jan. 11, 2012


Dear friends,

            I didn’t use my camera all weekend (rare for me I know), so let me describe a scene for you. Friday I drove up to the Coal River Valley in West Virginia, with a car full of organizers for a Mountain Justice Meeting. A while back I had suggested that we have a celebration to honor all the work done in the movement to end mountaintop removal since our meetings tend to be all business and it is hard to create intentional space for appreciations in the midst of all the despair, stress, excitement…etc.

When we arrived at the office for Coal River Mountain Watch on Friday night I was overcome with emotions. I had not been there in some time and the last time I walked in the door I was greeted by Judy Bonds, a leader who passed away from cancer last year at the age of 58. The office has a large room with a big work table and multiple desks, and there are pictures all over the office. Some are of mountaintop removal sites, gps maps, movie posters, and many are of Judy Bonds and others, honoring their work, and highlighting the current and past campaigns to draw attention to Coal River Mountain and the whole valley. This time I was greeted with hearty hugs and warm food. We stayed up late catching up and sharing stories until falling asleep sometime late into the night. Just before dawn, while we were all asleep, two of the framed photographs of Judy fell from the wall and we woke up to the sound of glass shattering. Judy was still with us.

Saturday during the day we had a business meeting for Mountain Justice, a monthly event involving volunteer organizers from throughout central Appalachia, who have organized an annual summer camp for the past seven years, and spring break camps nearly as long, to inspire, train and place activists, volunteers, and interns with organizations and in campaign houses throughout the region. See www.mountainjustice.org for more information.

            Arriving at the volunteer house was a delight. It is nestled into the mountains at the head of a hollow, with 170 acres of land surrounding the house. A full moon illuminated the land, and a bonfire gave us a natural circle to congregate in. Just being together on such a night is meaningful, and we added to that by honoring it with our full presence in a ceremony designed to celebrate and appreciate the work of so many, to release any obstacles holding us back personally, and to take on and publically declare our aspirations going forward. We invited into our circle all those who were not with us in person, and together we raised a toast for all of the incredible accomplishments this movement can claim, and moreover, sincere appreciation for one another. If you are reading this, chances are, we toasted you in that circle. If I had a photograph to share, you would see a tight circle of people illuminated by the orange glow of the campfire and surrounded by another circle of mist, well known in Appalachia for carrying spirits.

            There is a staying power that can come from gratitude and appreciation. Voicing our appreciation is a muscle in need of more exercise, and this particular evening helped. If there is only one message that is heard from the Eco-Chaplaincy Initiative, please let it be this: from gratitude and appreciation, all our work becomes more doable. People are dying every day from coal, and this grief can solidify into despair, come out as rage projected at oneself or towards others, turn into apathy or learned hopelessness…etc.  By remembering our intention, letting go of obstacles, embracing aspirations and being grounded in gratitude, we have more power than ever.

            As an eco-chaplain, my heart was full as I closed the circle. I left with a prayer that I would like to share here: “In this new year, in the midst of this great turning, may our work be defined by a culture of appreciation for one another. May we ask for help when we need to, lend a hand whenever we can, and strengthen our muscles of trust and mutuality so our coalitions and movements are as strong as possible. May we embrace an urgency in our actions that naturally embodies sustaining power for the long haul. May we let go of the shackles of polarization, and judgmental mind states, self-righteousness, and aggrandizement; while treating our bodies, our hearts and minds, our closest relationships, and all relations, in the way we want the world to be.


Looking ahead, the Eco-Chaplaincy Initiative is hosting two upcoming workshops here in the Asheville, NC area facilitating the Work that Reconnects. These workshops are inspired by the root teachings of Joanna Macy and will bring us through a spiral of connection from gratitude for being alive in this time of global crisis, honoring our pain for the world, seeing it through new eyes, which allows us to go forth with a renewed vigor and honed intention. The dates are Jan. 27-29th, and again February 17-19th. These are two separate workshops and the cost is $50-$85 sliding scale for each. You can write to me at sarah@ecochaplaincy.net or call 304-640-7960. I hope to see you here. If you are interested in hosting a workshop in your hometown, please pick up the phone or type back a message and let’s talk about it!

Also, I currently have room in my schedule for individual pastoral counseling over skype, phone, and in person. Please contact me if you are interested. Active listening, empathy and direct counseling all available to explore issues surrounding your engagement with activism, organizing, and the conditions of our world, despair, burn-out, grief, conflict, hope, hopelessness, or apathy, optimism, faith tradition and spiritual practice, spiritual advising, career and life transitions, etc. You need not work in Appalachia.  Sliding scale rate $36-$65/hour.  Attached is a brochure with all the services available through the Eco-Chaplaincy Initiative.

Thank you to all of you who have sponsored the Eco-Chaplaincy Initiative throughout these past few years. Your support is how it continues! To be a monthly donor or send a donation online, go to http://www.ecochaplaincy.net/donate.html or send a check to The Eco-Chaplaincy Initiative, PO Box 890, Swannanoa, NC 28778.


In gratitude,