What happens when a 140 acre farm site in Northwestern New Jersey is unexpectedly bequeathed to an order of Dominican Sisters. There had never been any association between the farm’s owners, Rupert and Mary Von Boecklins and the Dominican Sisters but Providence sometimes has strange ways of making things happen.
Inspired by the teachings of Fr. Vincent McNabb, who stated, “…there is little hope of saving civilization or religion except by the return of contemplatives to the land,” the sisters took this unexpected gift and created in Genesis Farm a center for contemplation and the study of ecology. But this is not a closed community, open only to those who have pursued a religious vocation. The sisters welcome, “all people of good will who are attempting to integrate spirituality with ecological consciousness.”
In an article written by Sister Miriam T. McGillis, one of the founders of Genesis Farm the three primary objectives of their mission are stated as. 1) to shape a transforming vision of the future; 2) to offer learning experiences that call the inhabitants of the earth to “come home and know home.”; and 3) to reinforce the connections of global interdependence.
Regarding the goal of shaping a transforming vision of the future, Sr. McGillis states, “…the alienation of western society from the earth and natural world fosters much of the spiritual, social and ecological disease of our times.” Yet she believes that certain prevalent influences, including the rise of feminine and ecological consciousness, the yearning for spiritual communion and the universal longing for peace have the capacity to counteract the damage that has been done by industrialization and alienation from the natural world. Sr. McGillis cites there sacred “scriptures” from which they draw inspiration for their new vision. They are the spiritual world itself, the mythic and mystical legacy of the native peoples of the North American continent and the earth’s religious traditions, “…each honored as a revelatory gift to the whole of humanity.”
A concept called “bio-regionalism” encompasses the notion of “coming home and knowing home.” A bio-region is defined by Sr. McGillis as “an identifiable, geographical area of interacting life systems that is relatively self-sustaining in the ever-renewing processes of nature.” There are a number of different “schools” on the farm that teach people how to be an effective part of the bio-region in which they live. These include a cooking school, a gardening school, schools of permaculture and wilderness awareness and a school of festivals that celebrates the natural seasonal events.
As regards the objective of reinforcing the connections of global interdependence, Sr. McGillis suggests that we need to “rethink and redefine all our cherished concepts of national security moving them toward the establishment of a new legal framework for global security.” She refers to the earth as “a living organism of which we are its conscious, thinking beings.” And reminds of us the awesome responsibility that this position engenders.
Sr. McGillis suggests that “many of the roots of our racism, bigotry, aggression, sexism and arrogance [are] sustained by our separateness from the earth and aversion to anyone who is ‘different’.” The work of Genesis Farm is to contribute to eliminating that separateness, both from the earth and from one another.