Friday, April 13, 2007

Green spirituality

On several occasions here I have written about Roman Catholic professed women -- nuns -- it has been my pleasure to meet, Dominican sisters and Sisters of Saint Joseph, who are pioneering a new kind of creation spirituality. They celebrate the universe as described by science, and cultivate a loving relationship with the Earth. They aspire to a life of natural simplicity that spurns consumerism. They honor Church tradition and the wisdom of Scriptures, but, as far as I can tell, they are not terribly interested in abstract theology. Their relationship with God is very much in the spirit of Clare and Francis of Assisi.

Now Sarah McFarland Taylor, a scholar of religion at Northwestern University, has written a book about the sisters I have met, and -- it turns out -- their many, many like-minded colleagues around the United States and Canada. Taylor is not a Catholic, but she is clearly impressed by these extraordinary Catholic women. Her book is called Green Sisters, and is published by Harvard University Press.

While the Catholic patriarchy in Rome goes about shoring up theological orthodoxy and a Kafkaesque bureaucracy, the women described by Taylor forge a mix of environmentalism and spirituality that the planet and humankind sorely need. Catholic tradition has a strong, if often repressed, thread of creation spirituality that makes sacraments of earth, air, fire and water and liturgies of the cycles of nature. Catholic monastic tradition has valuable lessons to teach about how to live a balanced life of prayer, work and study. The Green Sisters are reviving these important traditions and giving them contemporary relevance.

Kudos to Sarah McFarland Taylor for bringing this important movement to wider public attention. The Green Sisters presumably walk a fine line between the sweet authority of the Earth and the authority of Rome. Let us hope that the flow of transforming energy is from their organic gardens and simple oratories westward to the Renaissance palaces of the hierarchy. Rome claims to hold the Keys to the Kingdom. If I read them correctly, the Green Sisters want to throw away the keys and open a gracious universe to all of us.