A small pond at the Tivoli retreat center is overflowing its banks. I gazed at it from the window of the second floor chapel that Cafh members built so lovingly in what was once a barn. This is a spiritual home for me. I have come back again and again to reconnect with the Divine Mother in the midst of beautiful farmland at the foot of the Catskills.
This year we have had rain every day of our retreat, part of a weather system that is said to be “stalled” off the coast of the Carolinas. Meanwhile Washington, D.C. is flooding. Government buildings are closed and major roads are blocked off. A few areas of Maryland and Pennsylvania have been evacuated. Some of my fellow retreatants may go home to a muddy mess. What is going on, Mother?
This year, just three weeks before coming away on retreat, I had another kind of experience with nature. It was a long-awaited opportunity to travel to the Gulf Coast with a group of college students. We were pitching in to help rebuild some of the houses that had been severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Nine months after that storm we could still see the terrible devastation, the enormous power of the storm!
As I reflect back on the memories of giant trees uprooted and toppled onto roofs, while whole neighborhoods were swept away by the storm’s surge, I hear in my mind the echoes of the people’s voices expressing their determination to rebuild. Many have lost everything. They are frustrated, bogged down with the bureaucracy. Many are still living in FEMA trailers, still waiting for funds and building materials. Still waiting for the urgently needed teams of volunteers who come in to help clear out the soggy ruins, to disinfect and kill the mold, and finally to replace roofs, insulation and sheetrock. It is estimated that the huge rebuilding process will take ten to fifteen years!
I have come away from the Gulf Coast with a two-part message. First, we must continue to help the survivors. Teams of volunteers—many, many volunteers—will be needed for a long time. This service work is tremendously worthwhile and gratifying. Those who give of their time and energy receive not just gratitude, but also profound insights into the nature of our reality, insights into the nature of matter, psyche and spirit.
Second, it is abundantly clear by now that the recent extreme weather that we have been experiencing worldwide is tied in with our human disregard for nature’s ways. Global warming is a reality we can no longer afford to ignore. We must study science to learn alternative ways to live so as to reduce the “Greenhouse gases.” We must raise consciousness so that a worldwide grassroots movement begins to change our priorities. And we must study ourselves and make changes in the way we as individuals and small groups contribute to or rectify the problem. For example, we can reflect and then act on the “three Rs.” We can reduce our consumer wastefulness; we can reuse materials before throwing them away; and we can recycle whatever materials we can. Meanwhile I wonder: Can science find new ways to recycle destructive chemicals? We know from grade school that carbon dioxide (CO2) is recycled naturally by the trees around us. Rather than burn down rainforests in South America, we can plant trees. Are there ways that wind power and solar energy can be made economically feasible? We need to be asking these questions and make finding the answers our priority.
In Cafh we talk frequently about renouncement, and this retreat is no exception. As we look at our own lives and examine our values and our priorities, we need to explore the actual physical impact we have on people around the world. Can we renounce some of our conveniences? Our cars, for example. Some small things we can do for starters: Never drive when we can walk or take mass transportation; never drive alone when we can carpool; purchase smaller and more fuel-efficient vehicles. We owe it to our children and grandchildren and all future generations. We owe it to our world. In our emerging image of a unified world, when a butterfly flaps her wings in Tivoli, NY, it can have an effect on the weather anywhere in the world. Ours is a rescue mission of global proportions. We must be wise, discriminating and prayerful in that effort. Uniting with the Divine Mother, we can be Her Instruments.
Fredrica R. Halligan, Ph.D. is a psychologist and Counseling Center Director at Western Connecticut State University.