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Wednesday, 03 August 2011 05:26

One Sister’s story of simple living

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I live in Oamaru in the South Island of New Zealand in a small stone worker's cottage without electricity. The simplicity of this lifestyle has not only freed me from the accumulation of things I can easily live without but more importantly has enabled me to live more closely to the rhythms of the day and night and seasons.

A great gain for me is to have recovered the night - a time of renewal, reflection, meditation, rest and reading.

For the past few years I have been able to keep abreast of some of the latest literature on the depletion of oil and climate change and a growing body of theology addressing these issues.

A quote I found most challenging recently is from Clive Hamilton's Requiem for a Species in which he said: "The world's top scientists are now ringing the alarm bell at a deafening volume because the time to act has virtually passed."

Our eco-system upon which all life depends may not survive.  Is this not primarily a religious issue? A report in World Focus Magazine - a lift-out of the Otago Daily Times, Dunedin recently described the Jordan River:

"The once mighty Jordan River where Christians believe Jesus was baptised is little more than a polluted stream that could die next year unless the decay is halted ..."

This level of degradation is not only happening in the geographical cradle of our faith tradition but is being repeated all around the globe.

As a Blessed Sacrament Sister this reality challenges me to the core of my identity. Our sacramental system is under severe stress and is also in mortal danger. It may not survive unless we urgently attend to our dying eco-systems. Polluted, toxic food and water (bread and wine) are no longer symbols of life but of death.

I see this as the most urgent task facing the human and the religious communities today. In the words of Thomas Berry in his book Christian Future and the Fate of the Earth, "In the past centuries, women religious have been dedicated to educating, healing and guiding the human community. The primary role of religious congregations of women at present might well be to preserve the earth from further devastation."

Here in Oamaru I am part of a vibrant group of people whose passion is just that - to preserve the earth from further devastation. I am a founding member of the Natural Heritage Society Oamaru Inc, formed in 1991 out of our deep concern over the threat of genetic engineering (GE) in our food chain.

Our first action was to set up the Oamaru Organic Food Cooperative. We knew that food produced organically, that was certified and traceable, was also GE free. Within a few months we had 350 families join the co-op.

Between 2001 and 2004 we ran the New Zealand Organic Food and Wine Festival which brought together organic producers from throughout the country - lifting the profile of organics locally.Now we are also addressing other relevant issues like climate change and peak oil and the effects these will have on all aspects of life including food production.

More recently we have joined with groups of people around the world looking at the impact that the depletion of oil imposes on every aspect of our lives as this life-blood of our world begins to dwindle and run out.

We are also involved in the Transition Town movement which began in Kinsale, Ireland in 2004 under the leadership of Rob Hopkins. This movement is about building resilient communities locally with less dependence on oil, which has spread like fire around parts of the globe.

Oamaru's transition town project has been working on a number of levels from education to working towards developing permaculture design courses with the local polytechnic.

We can't take for granted that we can continue to rely on supermarkets and warehouses to supply our basic needs when the effects of oil depletion really hit home. So we are taking the first steps to build a resilient community for a low energy future.

An organic garden group meets once a month at our different properties sharing ideas and advice, saving seeds, swapping seeds, seedlings and produce. We support the town's community garden by attending working bees and workshops including composting and building a cob oven.

We also support the Waitaki Resource Recovery Park where much of Oamaru's waste is recycled, as well as being part of the waste exchange system recently introduced to Oamaru and headed by one of our members.

Some of our other initiatives have been holding weekend seminars with prominent academics on peak oil and climate change and organising bus tours to organic and self sufficient properties.

In 2009, leading up to the Copenhagen conference on climate change, we participated in the 350 international event with a week of activities about local sustainability.

Summer schools on traditional crafts and links with other organisations like the Victorian Town at Work which promotes a living, working Victorian town with a low energy lifestyle and crafts-based economy, are other initiatives.

For more information go to: www.oamaru.co.nz/nhs and www.transitiontowns.org.nz

Pathways August 2010

Have your say...

"I find the actions of Sister Marie Grunke and her companions to be the most realistic spiritual movement of the past 20 years."
- Ray O'Donoghue, 26-08-2010

" whew!! what a great act of creation sister is doing and her companions. for sure the eucharistic reign of God will prevail against the devastation of mo.earth. peace "
- eduardo verdadero, 26-08-2010

"Good on you Sr Marie. You are being; doing what many more of us should be. The damage being inflicted on the earth's eco-system is at the hands of us human beings. God Our Creator, and Sustainer of all life, gave it to us humans to care for, to develop and grow with it, and so give glory to God. Sadly we are using this wonderous gift, this manifestation of God's love, largely as a commodity to appease our seemingly endless needs, or is it whims. Each one of us needs to assume our Christian responsibility similar to you Sr Marie. We need to change our ways. I applaud you for the change you have made Sr Marie. I seek to live simply and in harmony with God's creation; a vegetable garden and the planting of native trees are the immediate outwards signs. I pray too that more and more Christians will take up Christ's call to change our ways."
- John Pettit, 09-09-2010