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Benedictine network | Benedictine Handbook | Benedictine Handbook: Preface

Benedictine Handbook: Preface


By Joan D. Chittister OSB

If you are wondering why you are even considering such a thing as an ‘environmental audit’ in a life that seems so removed from such processes, consider the time in which you live.

There are two moments in history when Benedictinism has been needed in a very special way: the first was in the 6th century; the second is now.

In the 6th century, Europe was reeling from the loss of civil order and the breakdown of agrarian communities. Farm lands lay in ruin from the movement of foreign invaders across Europe, trade routes were unsafe with the loss of the Roman Legions and the countryside was left overgrown and in ruins.

To that sorry state, Benedictinism brought a new system of order, a new pattern of life, a new commitment to the land and to life. Almost 700 years later, Cistercian groups again devoted themselves to the reforestation, the replanting and the reclamation of some of the worst land in Europe.

As a result of those conscious efforts, Europe became a garden again. Life thrived. People organized themselves into productive communities. Agriculture flourished everywhere.

Now, in this last century, our own century, after over 100 years of erosion, pollution, and the diminishment of natural resources by most unnatural means, the whole world is becoming alert to the relationship between the gift of creation and sins against creation again.

The garden we were given to live in as a people, we have failed to tend. The solemn commitment we made as a species to steward the fruits of the earth we have failed to honor.

On the contrary. We have all taken it for granted, even while it was being plundered right in front of our eyes. The industrial revolution that made the robber barons rich also made the globe poor: We poisoned our fresh waters and drowned them in tin cans and coffee cups. We wasted our forests and drained the world of their medicinal herbs. We turned farmland into grazing land to make cheap hamburgers and so denied the people of the land, the very land they needed to live. We belched gasses into the atmosphere till people died from the lack of fresh air. We saturated our farmlands with chemicals which, in the end, ironically, bled them dry of nutrients. We stripped the globe of whole species of animals. We dealt carelessly, recklessly, heedlessly and arrogantly with the very resources that sustained us.

Now, we find ourselves locked in mortal struggle between those who are trying to redeem those resources and those who are simply committed to making even more quick money on what’s left of them. We find ourselves faced with those whose philosophy of life is “after me the deluge,”-- who use what’s available without restraint and leave the problem of scarcity to generations to come--and those who simply fail to understand the magnitude of the problem and so go on blindly, using what we should be saving, destroying what we cannot do without.

Time is of the essence; the future is at stake. We are choosing between a philosophy of consumption that gobbles up the world for its own satisfaction and a philosophy of co-creation that is committed to preserving natural resources for the sake of those to come.

We are choosing now between those who are willing to drain the present for the sake of personal gratification and those who, loving the present, love it enough to preserve its richness for the sake of the future, as well. Clearly the whole world needs Benedictinism again, needs a mindset that cares for the tools of life “as if they were vessels of the altar.” We need a sense of balance, of enoughness, of stewardship and a sense of the eternal presence of God. We need a life lived in harmony with the seasons, the sun, the self and the other.

For Benedictines, an environmental audit is not a fad. It is not a social nicety. It is certainly not an option. It is simply a contemporary manifestation of an ancient commitment to the rhythm of the earth, the needs of the community and the God of Creation.

Congratulations to those who see its sacramental value, its claim to the Benedictine heart. They shall be called blessed for centuries to come, just as our ancestors before us.

Link here to download the whole book in English.
Link here to download the whole book in Portuguese.
Link here to download the whole book in Spanish.

Please note that the handbooks are around 1.2MB in size.

Link here for the personal story of its writer and editor Bill Bartlett, who describes why the book was written, how it changed in its three years of conception, and some of the challenges he faced.

Link here to contact the sisters at the Lake Erie-Allegheny Earth Force.

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