ecoMAGIS: finding God on a permaculture farm
In August 2019, Beech Hill played host to ecoMAGIS, between a retreat and an ‘experience week’ inspired by Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si’. A group of young people travelled to the beautiful small-holding in the heart of Cheshire to learn about and practise sustainable living both as individuals and as a society. None of them really knew what to expect, but the week proved to be enjoyable and formative for all involved.
Some retreatants were particularly attracted to the time set aside to reflect and simply be in silence: there were plenty of opportunities for this, although it was more challenging for those sharing a bedroom! Practical projects, such as planting a garden and digging ditches, filled the days, during which the group also faced other challenges, ranging from no phones to cold showers. For Emma, one of the participants, an unexpectedly rewarding test was putting away watches and other time-telling devices, in order to live entirely in the moment. “At first, I felt a bit dubious of how this was going to work for a whole week,” she said. “However, I soon felt liberated by not having to watch the clock and felt like it helped me to be much more present to other people and what was going on around me.”
The peacefulness of being out of the city was refreshing, as was the opportunity to pick some of the ingredients from the land before several meals: chard, spinach, kale and – unusually for many within the group – nasturtium leaves and/or flowers, and nettle leaves. There were opportunities to try using even more unfamiliar ingredients, such as hogweed seeds in banana bread or making dandelion root coffee.
In addition to the practical work, there were sessions dedicated to the philosophy and approach of the project. The participants considered the ethics of our current attitude towards the environment and discussed the spiritual aspect of it. The group consisted of a good range of personalities and backgrounds: education, environmental work, engineering, history, physics, medicine, as well as those more involved in theology. This diversity of perspectives meant that the conversations, whether the exchanges during the daily programme or the more informal chats around the dinner table, were incredibly varied and interesting, and it was fascinating to see the different solutions offered to the issues presented.
There was a real sense of gratitude at the end of the week, and plenty of talk about coming back. “The week brought together a real variety of people and it was so enjoyable to live and work with everyone throughout the week”, said Emma. “Through this experience of community, I realised that an aspect of Ignatian Spirituality that I love is that because one of its principles is to find God in all things, people who practise Ignatian Spirituality do all sorts of things!”
Read Emma's reflection on Pathways to God