The winds of change have swept through Rahamim Ecological learning Community and their sponsor organisation, the Sisters of Mercy, in the last eighteen months. Sometimes it felt like a gentle, refreshing breeze. And sometimes it felt like a tornado sweeping all before it. But that’s the way of the wind. It blows how and where it will. Nature has so much to teach us about life and growth and our place as human beings in the scheme of things.
This website is new and it will reflect some of the new growth at Rahamim: new logo, new name, new programs, new faces, new developments in the grounds, new arrangements for the spaces in the house, new governance structure. Creativity and novelty in nature are often the result of mutation – a disconnection with the past. But nature is also careful to preserve its successes and carry them forward. And so is Rahamim.
Now known as Rahamim Ecology Centre, the focus for the site and its work is still the environment and a new awareness of the place of the human within it. In the wider society, the conversation about climate change seems to have died down, and human destruction and pollution of the planet have also become yesterday’s news. The past few years have been dominated by issues relating specifically to the human condition, as if they have no connection to climate change and environmental degradation. For example, in the name of a strong economy, we have seen a push to risk the Great Barrier Reef, the black soil plains of the Gunnedah farmlands, National Parks and wildlife and renewable resource-based energy, as if human development were something separate from a healthy, flourishing environment.
Thankfully, we have also seen some members of the human species engage in action for the protection of these natural resources. But for most of us, who pick up our bread and milk, fruit and veggies from the Supermarket, we wonder what all the fuss is about. Rahamim will keep reminding us how important it is to nurture and protect the life support systems of this incredible planet – for their own sake, as well as for ours.
Rahamim - a word meaning “mercy” (compassion, unconditional love) in Hebrew – also remains as a constant. Having become part of an international organisation in December 2011 (the Sisters of Mercy of Australia and PNG) the local Bathurst Mercies no longer set their own local agenda, but work to further the vision and mission of the whole. However, the new national Mercy Institute affirms and supports Rahamim Ecology Centre and mandates it to share its insights and programs across all Mercy schools, hospitals and agencies in Australia and PNG, as well as to continue its work in the local Bathurst region.
In the new Institute, there are approximately eight hundred Sisters of Mercy, many of whom are frail and aging now. But there are eighteen thousand lay men and women, and members of other religious orders committed to the values of mercy and justice, who together with a smaller, vibrant group of younger, active Mercy Sisters, carry forward the works begun by the Order. Obviously, Mercy is not the prerogative of the Sisters of Mercy. Even if there were not a single Sister of Mercy left to work at Rahamim or in Bathurst generally, the values of Mercy and Justice would survive in every person whose heart is touched by suffering and injustice, and whose response is positive action to address their causes and effects. Indeed, as Rahamim takes up the challenge of learning about the relationship between human beings and the rest of the ecological system of which they are an integral part, mercy and justice are extended beyond the human community to the whole community of life on Earth.
Rahamim will also continue its connections and networks with other like-minded environmental groups in the Bathurst region, across Australia and PNG and internationally. The inhabitants of Planet Earth are on a steep learning curve in terms of their understanding of how to live on their planet sustainably. Sustainability means that we don’t use up the planet’s resources faster than the planet can renew them. Surely a species as intelligent as the human species can plan short-term development strategies that take account of long-term sustainability for life on the planet.
I hesitate to venture into the dynamics of “terrorism” and the “war on terror”, which preoccupies so much of our consciousness at present, because there is so much involved there, that is unintelligent and unintelligible to me: religious fundamentalism, arming of children, sale of weapons as a component of capitalist economies, destruction of ancient and contemporary cultures, laying waste of the land. If a “way of life” is at the heart of this conflict, rather than trying to sell the “way of the West”, with its faults as well as its blessings to the rest of the world, could this not be an opportunity, to work together to create a new world order, based on the knowledge we now have about the planet, its life forms and life support systems? We have the information and the technology, but still seem to lack the will to make so radical a shift.
And lastly, the Rahamim logo is new. It reflects the spiral movement of the Milky Way Galaxy in which earth’s solar system was born through the sacrificial death of a star. It reminds us that Rahamim is part of a larger unfolding reality – nothing less than the universe itself. We can afford to “think big”! We are, after all, made of star-dust. Our heritage is the intelligence of galaxies, the generosity of the sun, the creativity of evolution and for those with eyes to see, the spark of the Divine. At this point in history, the universe has entrusted us with the on-going development, not just of a nation state, or a local region or a family farm, but with the planet itself. This, as environmentalist, the late Thomas Berry says, is our Great Work – our way into the future.
Patricia E. Powell rsm