Surely, there is no better time than summer to rejoice in the beauty of our common home that surrounds us. However, it is equally important to act as an advocate on behalf of Earth. To see this, one needn’t look further than Sister Nancy Erts. For Sister, protecting and preserving the Earth is more than just a passion, it’s integral to her spirituality.
“My belief is that all things are one and that we have an absolute connection with everything that came before us,” Sister Nancy says. “It moved me into retreat work. I have a desire to work with adults and to work with retreat centers in the area of seeking environmental and ecological justice.”
Regardless of whether we join an environmentally minded community or just read more about climate realities in our spare time, we can all do something for Earth’s sake. Below, Sister Nancy shares five ways we can all proactively protect and preserve this planet.
1. Educate Yourself
Simple awareness of the dim reality of our planet isn’t enough. This belief was essential in the formation of ROAR (Religious Organizations Along the (Hudson) River). Comprised of more than fifteen religious groups including the Dominican Sisters of Hope, ROAR espouses a serious mission: to educate congregations and build community to promote right relationships with all of God’s creation. ROAR members gather to watch films, attend talks, share articles, and educate themselves on issues related to Earth and the Hudson. They then bring that knowledge back to their respective congregations.
It goes without saying that they encourage those around them to do the same.
“Our job is to pay attention to what’s going on,” Sister Nancy says.
Whether it’s via participating in local informational events or simply reading up about current environmental issues online, understanding Earth and the current threats to it is the first step in helping.
2. Speak Up
Of course education is good, but next comes action. Since its founding in 1996, ROAR initiatives have included collaborating with local and national organizations to address environmental issues around water, waste management, land use, etc., coordinating documentary screenings, publishing a reference book, and supporting various local organizations as they support the environment.
For Sister Nancy, attending meetings to speak up on legislation is a prime way to take action. After all, that’s how she, Sister Bette Ann Jaster, and co-creators changed Ossining Village legislation in order to approve local beekeeping.
“It’s really important to be a part of public meetings,” Sister Nancy says. “Whether it’s the River Keepers, ROAR, or the Sierra Club, we’re trying to support legal efforts to get laws passed that support the environment.”
In addition to marches and online petitions, local meetings are a great way to show support of an issue and emphasize its importance. For Sister Nancy, attending local town hall meetings has made a big impact.
“My experience has been that lawmakers listen when church groups are present,” she says.
“They’re a lot more interested in doing something about these issues then.”
How can you be an agent of change on a local level? Look into meetings, marches, and petitions, and get your support going.
3. Pray about It
Action is vital, but so is prayer. Prayer has an effect even if we don’t see it. That’s why Sister Nancy facilitates retreats at Mariandale that challenge participants to interact with the environment on a spiritual level.
“On my retreats, I focus on finding God in sacred writings but also in nature and life itself,” Sister Nancy says.
The result makes for an equally contemplative and educative experience. Take some time today to contemplate the beauty of Earth around you. Here’s a quote from Sister Nancy that might serve as inspiration:
“In the Bible, when Jesus says ‘love your neighbor,’ ’neighbor’ refers to animals, plants, everything. We need to develop a right relationship with nature in order to have a right relationship with God.”
4. Include Others
When ROAR holds a meeting, there is laughing and sharing aplenty. (At Mariandale, the meeting is also held, ironically, in the River Room.)
The best part of ROAR, no doubt, is that no one’s in it alone. If we take to heart Jesus’s statement that “where two or three come together in my name, I am there with them,” then the idea of community becomes even more powerful.
Yes, ROAR sticks together to educate each other, share ideas, and hold each other accountable for taking clear action steps. Yet, they also stick together for the joy that community brings, especially the laughs.
“We are one world and one community,” Sister Nancy says of everyone who lives on Earth. “We’re meant to be in communion with one another, our differences are meant to be celebrated. I think of it like a mosaic: lots of little pieces coming together to create a unified whole.”
It’s poignant to focus on wholeness. How can we come together to share knowledge, share actions, and co-create a better world?
5. Pass it on
Although being in community is necessary, we are also called to share our spirit for climate justice with those who aren’t in our immediate communities.
According to Sister Nancy, really loving each other also means being called to affirm and challenge each other.”
Passing on a heart for justice, then, is less about converting people and more about engaging in meaningful, two-way dialogue. Yes, this can be tough. But, it’s definitely worth it.
“For me, the reality of climate justice has become more realistic as I’ve learned through experience,” Sister Nancy says. “I’ve learned, for instance, that certain big, corporate companies have scientists who are in cahoots with them. As I understand and share this information with others, I have more of a sense of belonging to the Order of Preachers (Dominicans).”
Luckily, you don’t need to be a member of the Order of Preachers in order to preach. There are many ways to spread the good news. So, get to it! No effort is too small when the need is so great.