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Contemplation and Climate Change: The Spiritual Connection between food and faith

On Wednesday, Sept. 30, Loyola’s theology department hosted its first lecture of its Fall 2015 series, “Environment and Theology,” a reflection on Pope Francis’ second encyclical, “Laudato si’.” Fred Bahnson, director of the food, faith and religious leadership initiative at Wake Forest University School of Divinity, gave a speech to students and faculty titled, “Contemplation and Climate Change: On the Church’s Ecological Vocation.”

Bahnson reflected on the church’s response to the global climate crisis before elaborating on his personal experience living his ecological vision. According to Bahnson, humanity’s abuse of the earth is “running Genesis backwards,” and a form of desecrating God’s creation.  Bahnson reiterated, “the ecological crisis is a summon to profound interior conversion.” Through metanoia, a change in one’s way of life resulting from penitence or spiritual conversion, Bahnson believes humanity can address climate change. Through rejection of materialism and contemplative prayer (meditation), Bahnson believes a person’s love of God and creation is deepened.

Bahnson explained how contemplative prayer becomes visible as an ecological vocation through his own personal experience. After serving as director of Anathoth Community Garden, a faith-based community garden in North Carolina, Bahnson explored to find and study the connection between food and faith. On a journey to farm-faith communities and sites of organic innovation, Bahnson traveled the world, studying a Catholic monastery and a Young Jewish Farmers organization, as well as farms in northern Niger, southwest Florida and Havana, Cuba.

The Catholic monks illustrated the environmental movement as an ancient tradition, rather than a “new” trend. There they grew oyster and shiitake mushrooms. Bahnson found the growth of the mushrooms analogous to the fruit of contemplative prayer.

The Young Jewish Farmers at Adamah Farms also practiced contemplative prayer. One member of the farm, Nigel Savage, believes that everyone needs a Sabbath to understand that the world does not belong to humanity.

After chronicling his story, Bahnson began a Q & A session. Blythe Cassidy, ’18, asked how to reach out to and unite people of different faiths. Bahnson recommended holding an interfaith potluck. Another student asked Bahnson’s opinion of GMOs (genetically modified organisms). In Bahnson’s opinion, GMOs can facilitate corporate greed and are simply not needed. Rev. Frank Haig, S.J., questioned the practicality of community gardens. Bahnson felt that most food could be grown in community gardens and that they could be useful to a large number of people.

If you are interested in learning more about this movement, Bahnson’s food-faith journey is detailed further in his book, “Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith.”

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Contemplation and Climate Change: The Spiritual Connection between food and faith