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January 11, 2015 | First dialogue in Our Common Ground program series

What do we have to face to have right relationship to Earth?

Virginia started off the conversation with a brief history of the Network for Peace through Dialogue. She said that a few years ago we started having a strong focus on trafficking, but now in addition to our trafficking focus, we are taking on a new initiative, our program "Our Common Ground".

She mentioned Earth's rising water levels, depleted ozone, raising temperatures, air pollution, and water pollution specifically while highlighting that these are just a few challenges we face in our environment today. She then went on to state that there is a correlation between environmental issues and human trafficking as they both have to do with an attitude that people can dominate or "use and abuse" other people and earth at will. Virginia then asserted that we need to have a shift of view about our relationship with Earth and the desire to dominate in general.

Virginia then introduced the story part of the evening, saying that everyone will tell a story about their personal growth in relationship to Earth.

Peggy was the first to share. She started with a few childhood memories where she felt connected to earth. In the 60's she read Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" and became aware of the dangers of DDT and other pesticides. In the 70's there was news of rivers catching fire, air pollution, and species extinction. The Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts were passed President Nixon. Then, on a family vacation, she drove past cattle pens, where animals were packed in to be fattened for slaughter, which was an image she could not forget.

All of this information led Peggy to think about her relationship with the environment and make changes in her daily life. She read "Diet for a Small Planet", a book that argued that if instead of feeding grain to fatten livestock for us to eat, we ate the gain ourselves, there would be enough food to feed the world. After reading this book Peggy chose to eat very little meat. In addition she started to buy cleaning products that were biodegradable and to change what fabrics she wore.

In recent years she became involved with a community supported agricultural project (CSA) where they had a relationship with a local farmer to supply the group with organically grown vegetables. She continues to make an effort to support local farmers by eating locally grown food as much as possible. Peggy concluded with recognition that what keeps people healthy keeps the earth healthy as well.

After a period of reflection, other participants in the group had an opportunity to share their stories of how they relate to Earth daily. These comments follow:

Virginia shared her story next. She started by saying that as a child, she loved being outside. This love of the outdoors continued into her adult life and in the 80's she started an annual backpacking trip with another sister on the Appellation trail. In telling about her backpacking and camping retreats, it was apparent that Virginia feels very close an connected to the physical earth, as she talked about the joy she feels sleeping on the ground and breathing fresh air. She then said that she continues camping with the same sister still.

In the 70's, Virginia was teaching science and evolution. Virginia has always believed in evolution, as it has always made sense to her, but at that time she began to read the works of a Jesuit scientist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, who spiritualized the belief in evolution.

Virginia states that she does a few minor things to attempt to better her relationship with the earth. A goal for her this year is to not use paper towels, and instead use cloth rags. Virginia concluded with the thought that though she is attempting to be more aware of the earth, she wants to become much more aware of the earth.

As Peggy and Virginia were the two main speakers, Virginia then posed a question to the rest of the group to prompt their own stories. This question was: How did your relationship with the earth change or develop?

Here are some of their reflections:

  • I love the fresh air and the feeling of dirt and soil in my hands. For much of my adult life I lived in Riverdale, which is still somewhat a part of New York City but filled with wide open spaces and plant and animal life. My children played in nature and I have been involved in a program where children grew plants and kept a garden. The children were delighted when something that they planted sprouted. Being a grandmother has raised the question of what her grandchildren's world will be like.
  • I was a dirt dauber like the bird that likes to nuzzle itself into the dirt. As a child I liked to have my hands in the dirt and constructed whole towns out of mud. My grandmother used to make everything from the fruits of the earth which fostered a strong conscious relationship with the land. Growing up in an extended family fostered the belief that we all rely on one another and on Earth. This belief and the belief in the importance of all God's creatures lead to my decision to become a Franciscan. One day recently I surprised myself by talking to a three-toed pigeon I saw on the street. My struggle with the environment that I have to face is that I need to challenge myself to examine my lifestyle.
  • I felt a deep connection with the earth from childhood. My parents had a significant impact on this connection because of their connection with the earth. I grew up eating organic food and food from farmer's markets, and playing outside all of the time. In the summer myself, my brother, and neighborhood kids would create what we called "mud city" were we would make structures and tunnels in the dirt and the mud. Growing up I was also very connected to trees and hiking. In middle school robotics program, each year we had a theme. I did robotics two years in a row and was on the research team each time. One year the theme was nanotechnology, where we explored the uses of nanotechnology in creating greener fabrics and centered our presentation on that. The other year, the theme was solar energy so I also spent a lot of time researching that.
  • In college and in some college courses, I started learning more about and becoming more interested in doing self-research in the area of the environment. Courses I was taking vastly increased my consciousness of the environmental issues we face. Living in the city here I have been thinking about the dichotomy of my experience. On the one hand the way people live in the city is in some ways environmentally friendly. For example, people take public transportation and live in smaller spaces that are more easily heated than single family homes. At the same time they are very far away from nature. There is a strange disconnect between not being surrounded or physically close to nature but generally being more environmentally friendly then those who live surrounded by nature.

  • I am involved in a community garden where I grow some of my own food and share some of it with others. I feel connected to the earth by growing food.
  • My family moved from the country to town when I was small. When we went back to visit family in the country they told me to eat the red clay. I did and it tasted good. I cherish Earth but I take it for granted. I am very annoyed when I see someone littering. I believe Earth will be here long after we are gone.
  • I was an only child growing up in New York. The family business that stretched several generations was the business of getting fresh fruits and veggies into grocery stores so I knew the importance and relationship with food. I am very fond of animals, and as a child I felt bad for the horses pulling horse-drawn carts. I was once very upset seeing a cat run-over. I once worked in my aunt's community's garden where I did a lot of pruning and plant maintenance and that gave me joy. I like taking care of a friend's cats when she is away.
  • In my life I have been more involved with people than with nature. Perhaps I have had a different experience than others here, although I have always enjoyed the fruits of nature and the beauty and abundance in nature. In my life I have stressed a need for transformative actions, for example pushing back against the damage done by strip mining. I see that everything has a relationship else that exists. I realizes that I need not just be present for my community but for everything that exists.

After the last story was told we took a moment to think on the similarities and differences than we discussed them and wrote them down on newsprint, they are as follows.


  • Physical contact with the earth
  • Playing with the earth
  • Mother's contact was prominent
  • Several people mentioned they need to deepen their relationship with the earth


  • Survival of humans
  • Urban vs. rural environments
  • Industrialized agriculture vs. locally grown
  • Oil

To conclude the meeting we discussed possible next topics and final reflections. Possible next topics included oil, what can we do? what are we doing?, after dialogue where do we go?, an examination of personal experience i.e. How do I rely on oil? Final reflections were that it was beneficial to have both older and younger people express their stories. Another reflection was that there needed to be a focus on moving out of domination. We may also explore our relationship with other species.

The next LRD is Wednesday February 11th

Fiona Murray

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