Called to ‘caring for this holy ground’
By Rose M. Blank, affiliate
As I think about the ministry of ecospirituality, I reflect upon the experiences that have led to my own deepening desire to be part of this work. I come from a farm family in eastern Iowa. The great stewardship practices of my grandmother and father were instrumental in shaping my own desire to care for this precious Earth we call home. Serving for nearly 30 years as a United Methodist pastor in rural towns and small cities throughout Iowa, I felt this idea of connecting faith to ecological advocacy become even stronger.
I have been an affiliate with FSPA since 2011 and am a member of the People of Earth Companion Community. Much of our focus has been on group study of ecospirituality. Shortly after my retirement in 2017, I began volunteering at Prairiewoods Franciscan Spirituality Center in Hiawatha, Iowa. Much of my work has been in the Garden of Eat’n. This beautiful, edible landscape is full of plants and herbs, small fruit bearing shrubs including gooseberries, a pear tree, rhubarb and strawberries. All is available to guests and visitors — humans, bees, birds, and all of God’s creatures alike. It is indeed a feast for the senses and a delight in my heart to know that I have one small part in caring for this little parcel of God’s Earth.
My ministry at Prairiewoods has intensified my longing to learn more about ecospirituality and inspired me to join The Academy for Spiritual Formation’s two-week Celtic pilgrimage last year. As we traced the journey of Celtic spirituality through Scotland and northern England, we spent time on the island of Iona, known as the “thin place” — the place where the holy enters in and transforms us.
I found my own thin place when we visited Machair, which means “raised beach.” It’s common grazing ground for sheep on the west side of the island that was used for agricultural purposes by the Celtic monks and later as a cornfield by the Benedictines. At each spot we explored, our leader read a devotion from the book “Iona: A Pilgrim’s Guide.” This is the devotion we heard at Machair: “For centuries, far too many Christians have presumed that God’s love is primarily directed at them, and that his natural order was created mainly for the use, and abuse of, humankind. We must realize that the way to maintain the value and preciousness of the human is by reaffirming the preciousness of the non-human also, of all that is.”
It was a powerful experience for me. My eyes filled with tears and my heart overflowed with the magnitude of God’s love for all wondrous creation. I heard a clear call to be more intentional in the work of uniting faith and the care of this holy ground. It was also a time of recognizing that I have a long way to go. It is reading and learning, being on my knees in the soil (even on 90-degree days) or simply walking the forest and prairie trails that I continue this ecospirituality journey. Thanks be to God for the blessings and opportunities of my ministry at Prairiewoods — and the whole Franciscan community.
Rose Blank is a master gardener who volunteers in the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, area. She sees her ecospirituality ministry in part as a response to two of the provocative movements proclaimed by A Revolution of Goodness: those of Relationships (“We build bridges of relationships that stretch us to be people of encounter who stand with all suffering in our Earth Community”) and Gospel Living (“We are freed through joyful Gospel Living to be transformed in love and goodness for community and mission”).
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