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October 15, 2014

 

Dearest Friends,

            Fall is in full swing in Appalachia, and I hope each and every one of you can experience the glory of Appalachia in autumn at least once. I began celebrating fall a few weekends ago, while up in West Virginia to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Mountain Justice. We gathered at the Southern Appalachian Folklife Center, in Pipestem, and spent the whole weekend sharing stories, songs, and experiences from the past ten years (five and a half for me!).

            Tomorrow I am headed off again, this time to return to my alma mater where I earned a Master of Divinity degree, Naropa University, in Boulder, Colorado, for our 40th Anniversary celebration, marked by a weekend conference called the “Radical Compassion Symposium.” I am looking forward to returning to Naropa, to see my close friends, mentors and professors. My beloved mentor Joanna Macy is one of the distinguished keynote speakers, as are my professors Judith Simmer-Brown, and Dale Asrael, and many friends and colleagues are coming back to attend this weekend. If you want to participate virtually, there will be a live-stream of Joanna Macy’s talk on Friday morning, and you can sign up online here.

            All of these reunions have me thinking about all the work I have done these past five and a half years since moving to West Virginia, and creating the Eco-Chaplaincy Initiative. I am returning to Boulder with a full body of work, which I spent my years at Naropa coining, and developing as “Eco-Chaplaincy,” and since, with yalls help, manifesting in the world. It feels good to return to a reunion with stories from the field, about what Eco-Chaplaincy is, and my ideas for what all it can be.  

            Even more so, the timing is right in all our movement work, for a national discussion about Radical Compassion. As our movements become more integrated across issues, and the focus continues to move to the spaces of intersectionality, where the nitty gritty work of addressing racial equity and climate justice merge, and gender binaries are dismantled along with the outdated cloak of homophobia, we need to all engage in the question for ourselves – what is radical compassion? And further: am I /are we practicing it?

            We have all experienced compassion at some point. Feeling with, and for, another, sharing in the experience of emotionality, wishing others healing, peace, safety, ease. Distinct from sympathy, where you feel sorry for another, compassion manifests as feeling with another, and often can motivate us toward action on behalf of others, which in and of itself can be a radical act. It is nearly impossible, for example, to hear about mountaintop removal coal mining, or fracking, and not feel a sense of sadness for our mountains, our water, and our communities, followed by a need for justice. We can easily foster compassion for the situation, and wish for a better future.

Where the word “radical” seems to go, in this situation, is when people act out of a motivation spurred by that compassion. Further, radical compassion, to me, is not just acting out of compassion for the world, but looking deeply into the interconnectedness between self and other, issue and issues, and acting from this understanding. I am so pleased to report that this is where a lot of the organizing work I am around is headed these days. And of course, we all have miles to go. Manifesting movements which are truly motivated by radical compassion takes flexibility, an ability to forgive oneself and others, a deep commitment to the survival of life on Earth, and a sense of humor, to keep going down the many valleys, and up on the many peaks.

 You can tell the mark of a person motivated by radical compassion because they have a deep resiliency, an ability to forgive and make mistakes, and continually be motivated by big intention; they allow the people around them to be themselves, and engaging in the constant effort to know, and trust oneself well. This is a challenge of course, and as an Eco-Chaplain, I will never run out of work, because there are endless ways for activists and organizers to feel burned out, exhausted, despairing, etc. Luckily, compassion is a limitless resource. We can receive compassion as well as continually make sure our work is motivated by it.

            I am so proud of all of yall who are working to help our world be a better place. I am deeply grateful that I can go back to Naropa after only six years with a treasure trove of stories from all the actions and mobilizations, meetings, convergences, and organizing work I have participated in here in Appalachia. I am so grateful for all of you supporters of my work, who have donated money and sent encouragement along the way. Thank-you! Thank-you! Thank-you!

 

Much love and compassion,

Sarah


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