Faith blooms for students in garden



A group of religious Yalies in search of sunshine and spirituality Friday found it in a day of weeding and trellis-building at the Yale Organic Garden on Edwards Street.

The newly-formed Faith and Environment group’s first event included several presentations on religion and the environmental movement in addition to the garden work.

“I myself had worries about whether my faith and my love for the environment could co-exist,” group member Chelsea Purvis ’06 said. “Really, there is a great basis [in religion] for environmental justice as well as social justice.”

Amanda Chavez ’05 said she started the group this semester to educate religious people about the environmental movement and to reconcile faith with environmental care. Chavez said she wanted to help students of faith clear up common misconceptions of environmental conservatism in religion.

Chavez said religious people are obliged to care for the environment. She said humans were created to be stewards of the land who treat the environment with “love and compassion.”

Benjamin Siegel ’07, next year’s Hillel President, said the Faith and Environment group has sought to foster dialogue between religious groups with “similar environmental concerns.”

“The Faith and Environment group is a very logical first step in getting people exposure to the environmental traditions in their faith,” he said.

Siegel said the group has drawn members from the Bahai, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths, and a representative of most of these faiths have given a presentation to the group resolving their own faiths and the environment. The gardening Friday began with meditation led by Ravenna Michalsen GRD’08 — who co-founded one of Yale’s two Buddhist groups, Lotus — followed by other presentations on Judaism and Islam, Chavez said.

Siegel, who gave the presentation on Judaism, said Judaism is “at its core an agricultural religion.”

“Environmental thinking has always been an undercurrent,” he said. “Its only been in the past two years where I’ve had exposure to Jewish environmental texts.”

There are several texts, including the Mishnah, which are “explicit on environmental law,” Siegel said.

Christianity draws on many similar texts, Chavez said, particularly from the Old Testament. She also said Jesus’ parables often use plants and seeds to show “the power of God.”

Purvis said working with the environment helps her develop her faith on her own.

“Being in the garden, being outside is almost a meditative thing,” she said. “It’s really a catalyst for spiritual growth.”

The Faith and Environment group has hosted several presentations throughout this semester, Chavez said. The group is always looking for new members, she said, and it will host more events next year.

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