Services and Rates
What is Eco-Chaplaincy?
Letters by Sarah Vekasi
e-mail me

June 20, 2012


Dearest friends,

            My heart calls out to each and every one of you, singing praises and encouragement for your work on behalf of Earth in big and small ways. After working pretty full time for six weeks or so: assisting Joanna Macy with a fantastic ten day Work That Reconnects Intensive at Stone House, in Mebane, NC, the Alliance for Appalachia quarterly meeting in Charleston, WV, leading workshops at Mountain Justice Summer Camp, offering individual counseling, trust building conflict transformation and group mediation,  etc., you know what I feel? Inspiration. Excitement. Awe. Sure some exhaustion, and a whole lot of determination to continue raising up eco-chaplaincy.

Since last I wrote there have been large scale actions in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Washington D.C. demanding an end to mountaintop removal coal mining and all forms of steep slope mining, so we can focus on the transition work towards a just and sustainable Appalachia. All of these actions and outcomes could be a letter in themselves, and I encourage you to learn about them online, as I want to use this time to write specifically about the Work That Reconnects, and sharing some about what I have learned in this past month for the rest of this missive.

            For those of you who are new to it, the Work That Reconnects came to life through Joanna Macy, who is now in her mid-eighties, and a living mentor, and elder at a time when such a role is rare. She and I have fifty years between us, so assisting Joanna with facilitation for ten days was a real treat, and a powerful example of how this work is relevant across generations, geography, storylines, etc. The intensive was rooted here in the southeast, and focused on the energy crises of this region, including mountaintop removal coal mining and coal fired power plants, nuclear power, waste and transportation, and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Thirty of us worked together for a weekend and then again for seven days (two different intensives) lifting up and exploring regional resiliency throughout the process.

The Work That Reconnects brings us through a journey of understanding the time we live in, how mainstream industrialized culture works, and how, if unchecked, can lead to unmitigated disaster, (such as: the Appalachian mountains being blown up, valleys filled in, slurry impoundments holding billions of gallons of toxic coal sludge above hollows, local communities taking the cost as collateral damage, while threatening good portion of the nation’s water supply, all for a ‘cheaper’ way to get the rest of the coal, which is being shipped oversees, etc. for the profits of a few….etc. phew….deep breath…­). And then it poses another possibility. Not a rose-colored-glasses version where the slurry impoundments suddenly disappear, but a grounded version of what it will take to turn us around in a ‘Great Turning’ toward a life-affirming, life-sustaining society.

This is where the work, the practice, of the Work That Reconnects comes in. Re-learning connection with ourselves, with others, with the effects of our actions, with our Earth. The work is infused with living systems theory, deep ecology, spirituality, and the use of the moral imagination to help us reconnect to life. It fosters a greater expanse of time where we work for the future, not in denial of that possibility as we so often do now through the process of a cycle beginning in gratitude, honoring our pain for the world, seeing it with new eyes, and going forth.

One of the pieces I love the most about the Work That Reconnects is in the understanding that this Great Turning must include a whole posse of strategies working together. These are broadly defined into three categories:

·         Holding Actions: such as direct action, legislative change, community organizing…etc.

·         Creating Alternative Structures: such as locally sourced food and power, getting our neighborhoods off-grid, alternative schools…etc.

·         Shift in Consciousness: such as collective liberation, shared decision making, restorative justice practices…etc.

I want to lift this part up particularly because so much of my work as an eco-chaplain involves encouraging people to discern which part of this big picture really makes their heart sing, rather than assuming that there is only one ‘proper’ or ‘better’ way to go about revolutionary change. We humans seem to get in our camps and raise up a flag stating that our transformational strategy is the most important one, when really, we need it all.

A question I am often asked is “what is the most important thing I could do to help stop mountaintop removal?” and you know what I say? I say, “well – I would love to explore this with you, so first would you be willing to tell me more about yourself?” because quite honestly, the most important thing we can each do, is to discern that which really makes us come alive in connection to the whole, and play our part to the best of our ability.

And at the same time, let’s look at that whole. Within this is a vital and implicit point that I want to draw out, and the last one for this long letter, which is that in the context of great transformation - it is not okay to assume that the ends outweighs the means with our actions. We cannot assume, for example, that if we end mountaintop removal coal mining while using power-over decision making structures, and without our collective liberation embodied and modeled in the work, that it will ultimately aid Appalachia. It may save some mountains for a short amount of time, but I’ll betcha that another form of resource extraction will be just around the bend. Just look at what the natural gas industry is doing with fracking! This is a time where our very survival requires transformation at the base, including how we move through conflict, how we take care of ourselves and one another, who is included at the decision making tables, how decisions are even made, where we live, how we are educated, what we eat…etc.

I know this is a tall order. This Great Turning is going to take all of our effort, and a whole lot of resiliency. We need to put on the garments of endurance and make ourselves big enough to forgive ourselves and others a bunch of times over, be fearless enough to learn from our many mistakes, and honor the humility and boldness great transformation requires.

As an eco-chaplain, let me tell you, I believe this is possible, completely. I began this letter sharing with you how much inspiration I feel working within this movement, and being alive at this vital time, and I mean it. I also want to push us along in how movement work is done broadly speaking, so that we can mirror what we want throughout out work.

With that, I will close for now. If you feel inspired to explore these ideas more with me, please do not hesitate to write back and also hire me to lead a workshop, give a talk, work one on one with you, or with your group.

The Eco-Chaplaincy Initiative is powered through your generosity, and I welcome all tax-deductible donations, which can be made online at http://www.ecochaplaincy.net/donate.html and in the mail at the Eco-Chaplaincy Initiative, PO Box 890, Swannanoa, NC 28778.


Love and Solidarity,