For two weeks this summer, Columbans who work on justice and peace issues from around the world will gather in Ireland, at the Burren in County Clare. While there, they will study the unique geology, plant and animal life in the region, as well as the human connections with it. Participants will spend time in lectures and field studies to fully experience the ecology of the Burren. They will also take part in group discussions and brainstorming sessions about current JPIC issues. Representing the U.S. region at this gathering will be two young adults: Brett Garland, a student at the Catholic University of America, and a former Columban intern, and Tracey Horan, a teacher in an El Paso school.
This blog will document Brett & Tracey’s experience in Ireland, with reflections on what they are learning and photos of the unique and beautiful landscape of the Burren. Here are some of Brett’s thoughts as he prepares to partake on this journey – stay tuned for regular updates from Brett and Tracey!
Interconnectedness of all life
Brett Garland, Burren Study Week Participant
When I left Ireland in April of 2007 after spending a week traveling with my family around the Emerald Isle on my first experience abroad, I promised myself that someday I would make it back to that enchanted land that had captured my heart and imagination, but I never dreamed that I would be returning so soon!
Looking back on my experience of growing up on a family farm, I have realized that ecology was a part of my life long before I knew the meaning of the word. I grew up listening to my dad talk about rotation crops, rain forecasts, nitrogen-rich legumes, the importance of no-till farming, and many other related topics. While occasionally farmers get a bad rap because of the irresponsibility of a few individuals, I think the majority of the people in the profession understand the interconnectedness of life and realize that they are not free to do with creation whatever they wish. At an early age I recognized the sense of respect and responsibility that my dad and other local farmers had for the land that they cultivated, and most of all I observed the humbling effect that such dependence on the variable processes of nature had on them.
I once heard that there are two places that a person would be hard-pressed to find an atheist: one is a battle field and the other is a corn field. I think the truth in this old saying is rooted in the fact that the experiences of a soldier and a farmer are filled with times of uncertainty in which God serves as the only certainty, the only absolute reality in one’s life. The bounty of a farmer’s harvest is not so much dependent on his own labor as it is on the whims of God’s grace in the form of adequate amounts of rain, sunshine, and nutritive soil. One thing that agrarian cultures have learned over the years is that the key to sustainability in crop production is rooted in an understanding and respect for the resources that are utilized.
In my religion class this past spring, I learned of several different archaic cultures that would actually ask permission from the gods before they would kill anything from a plant to a wild animal. In a different, yet related way, I grew up in an environment in which my family and I realized that while we were stewards of the land that we cultivated, in a converse way our very existence depended on that same land. It seems to me that as the world’s populations move away from rural areas and increasingly inhabit metropolitan centers, we are becoming more and more disconnected from the natural world that sustains us and points us toward its all-powerful Creator.
I am looking forward to going to the Emerald Isle for several reasons. As my ancestral home, it has and always will occupy a special place in my heart. On my last trip, I got to see the breadth of Ireland, and did all of the touristy things that one would expect. I see this upcoming trip as an occasion to get to know the land in a much more intimate way. But, in addition it is my hope that I will come away from the experience with a newfound appreciation not only for Ireland and the Burren in particular, but also a much greater understanding of the complex interconnectivity of all life on Earth. I know this is a high goal to have, but my experience meeting Fr. McDonagh for the first time has given me the confidence to set the bar high. I’m sure he has a lot in store for everyone who will be attending this two-week trip, and I’m looking forward to every minute!