Ecology Workshops in China

Ecology workshop in China. Photo: Fr Dan Troy

Ecology workshop in China. Photo: Fr Dan Troy

The varied landscapes of China provide a fine setting for hosting ecology workshops. Whether it be the dusty rugged contours of Shanxi or the tight confines of a Beijing suburb, each can be a suitable place to explore the beauty of God’s creation.

In recent years Columbans in China invited John Feehan to lead a number of workshops that involve a combination of lectures and personal exploration so that participants become more aware of the beauty and the mystery of God’s creation. As a person of deep faith, John uses his expertise in geology and botany to gently lead people to an encounter with the natural world that is personal and awe-inspiring.

People who gaze for ten minutes through a microscope at the intricate beauty of one small flower are led to realise that there is so much to be pondered if we are to think seriously about the vast array of creation described in the opening lines of the Book of Genesis. That experience of looking through a microscope stirs the heart to even greater depths if a tiny insect is seen within the recesses of a flower, its life lived in a world of other dimensions.

Most of the participants in these workshops are religious sisters. The opportunity for them to use hand lenses and microscopes to view the natural world in a different way is usually a revelation for them. In these workshops, John Feehan continually emphasises that when we are struck by the beauty and mystery of what is before our eyes, there is just one question to be asked: What does this tell us about God?

John’s visits to China have allowed us to build up a team of people who have more recently facilitated similar workshops. In a country where there is a close relationship with the natural world in the lives of many people as well as in the country’s art and poetry, ecology workshops are a way to help people make connections between the beauty of the natural world and their understanding of the Divine.

Laudato Si reminds us that “the history of our friendship with God is always linked to particular places which take on an intense personal meaning; we all remember places and revisiting those memories does us much good (LS 84).” Based on this important insight, our more recent workshops invite participants to draw or make paper models of the natural world in the area where they grew up. Participants are quite happy to revisit those memories and the minute detail of their artwork reveals how closely connected they remain to those special places. In small groups, participants have an opportunity to show their artwork to one another and explain the details of the places that are represented. The experience of listening to people share their artwork is like being brought on a guided tour of the place where they grew up.

Ecology workshop in China. Photo: Fr Dan Troy

Ecology workshop in China. Photo: Fr Dan Troy

During the ecology workshops visits are made to local sites that show particular aspects of the natural world. A visit to a natural history museum can offer similar benefits for a workshop if it is located within a reasonable distance. Inviting a local expert in some aspect of the natural world to speak at a workshop helps participants to realize that there are many resources available for understanding the beauty and mystery of the world that God has created.

During the past two years, we have also begun to sponsor ecological display units for convents and retreat houses in China. A shelf unit is made locally to a specific design. Items from the natural world in that area are displayed on the top shelf. Books and magazines relating to the natural world are available on the shelves. A microscope is also provided. The display unit can be an attractive feature in a retreat house or convent. It can lead to conversations initiated by curious visitors, thereby presenting an opportunity for a discussion on the place of the natural world in God’s unfolding creation. It can also provide suitable resources for working with young people.

In Laudato Si, Pope Francis highlights that St. Francis “was a mystic and a pilgrim who lived in simplicity and in wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature and with himself (LS 10).” The hope contained in the life of one of the Church’s early saints can still provide a guiding light in our time for us to live in similar harmony with God, with the natural world and with others. 

Columban Fr Dan Troy lives and works in China.

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