I am pleased to share another one of the beautiful projects created with the Earth Monastery Grant. Read on to learn about Monica McDowell, MDiv's The Girl with a Gift "Mustard Seed" Project.
The Girl with a Gift project was a creative and contemplative project used as "mustard seed" to multiply "earth as our monastery" awareness. The creative aspect of my project was my book, The Girl with a Gift, an eco-fiction, coming-of-age novel appropriate for ages 13 and up. It features climate change, spirituality, and earth care as background and foreground in the plot. The contemplative aspect of my project was the book discussion questions at the end of the book that groups read and discussed. The "mustard seed" aspect was offering my books to church/spirituality groups to read the book, discuss the questions at the end of the book, come up with their own earth projects as inspired by the book, and to share their projects with their larger communities.
The grant was used to purchase seventy copies of The Girl with a Gift which was distributed, read, and discussed at multiple churches and book clubs. After the discussions books were passed along to individuals and libraries.
St. Andrew's Episcopal (SAE)
SAE distributed the books to three groups in their church: Women's Friendship Circle, Sacred Grounds, and Creation Keepers, as well as to staff. They planted a plum tree to provide additional fruit for their food ministry and burgeoning organic gardens on site.
St. Paul United Church of Christ (SPUCC)
SPUCC has a Book Bunch that chose TGWAG as their selection for February and they discussed the book with me over Skype on March 22nd. As their Earth Care Project, members pledged to:
- Remember to use recyclable or cloth shopping bags, instead of plastic and invite others to do the same.
- On a short term and to increase public awareness: On Earth Day/Earth Week, in April, we will request St Paul to publish on the church marquee, these words of the Vietnamese Monk, Thich Nhat Hanh: "Real Change will only happen when we fall in love with the earth".
- On a longer term and to invite St Paul to join us in this concern: we will request our church to publish one action item to care for the earth, every Sunday in the worship bulletin for 50 Sundays.
- One time: One day this summer, one of our members will invite Book Bunch and others to get out and clean up a "road".
- Long term: Book Bunch will adopt a road as a "Book Bunch Road" to care for. We will invite others to join us.
- Very long term, in participation with a church-wide dream: we will join in this dream to convert one of the church parking lots that is seldom used into "raised-vegetable garden to provide fresh produce for Martha's Kitchen-Mary's Heart and local food pantries".
Others who read the book but who couldn't attend the discussion also added suggestions such as stop using Styrofoam, and bring in Fair Trade to church.
Book club of St. Matthews Teachers/Retired Teachers (SMBC):
The SMBC members created an Earth Care Project in honor of Mary, one of their members who had recently died. They beautified the earth by donating a St. Francis statue that holds birdseed to her private garden and planted flowers around it. They memorialized this earth project with a ceremony and ritual, which was written about by another of their members here.
Salon Cerchio Book Club (SCBC):
The Salon Cerchio Book Club put up a bird feeder (pine cones with peanut butter and seeds) outside their offices. Next week they will be planting a tree in Lincoln Park in Seattle, WA.
What I learned:
This project was both meaningful and fun for me. I was able to publish TGWAG, writing group discussion questions for it with "Earth as Monastery" in mind. Participating in the book discussion with three of the groups was fascinating. This being my first fiction, I had no idea what to expect as to readers' interactions. The questions at the end of the book that I provided and the questions they came up with themselves provided very stimulating discussions on earth care and spirituality.
What was most meaningful for me were the earth actions that the groups took and are taking, the commitments they made, and seeing how intentional they were about caring for the earth. The book and the group aspect created a nexus whereby they could come up with ideas and have the group support and accountability to do more.