`Everything is a miracle, eternity in the present moment. God is the life that makes the grass to sprout and the trees to grow. Believers ought to be the first ecologists…. I am part of the mystery of life, each element has its integral part, like a beautiful symphony where even the silences have their importance’. (La Puissance de la Moderation’ by Pierre Rabhi).
There were so many impressions it is difficult to know where to begin. I stayed at the Campus for Transition for 2 weeks and returned profoundly grateful for the experience. There is an explosion of life and energy, young people, community and volunteers together all committed to this new and exciting project. It has been going only one year and so much has already been achieved ; already groups are coming, summer schools are being arranged for the second time, volunteers are promising to come back, permaculture beds are producing the largest tomatoes I have ever seen, leeks, maize and a myriad of vegetables and herbs. I wondered about the three delightful black sheep, the community are not making sheep’s cheese or using the wool, they exist and perhaps remind us of our creatureliness, our simple being. It is a radical, simple life, vegetarian food, organic gardening, bee hives near the woodland way through the trees to where the Carmelite monastery can be seen through the fence, a noticeable lack of plastic, though Cecile commented there was more to be done about that , working towards zero waste with large heaps of compost, even a compost loo with wood shavings for cover. There is still plenty to be done, especially with the building which is not in very good condition ; a lot of work was being done by teams of young people, some of whom were professional engineers ; they are trying to insulate and make the top floor habitable. So far there is no heating and as all the windows are a bit different there is a real problem about draught exclusion even before the choice for geothermal, biogas or whatever, is made. The community braves the winter with blankets.
There is a strong community spirit. Whether we were there for shorter or longer times we knew we were all in it together. Everyone had meals together including any groups who happened to be there. Inclusion was important. I noticed a real effort to be non-judgmental whether it be talking about the local villagers, 40% of whom voted for Le Pen in the last election, or some of the local farmers who continue to use pesticides and herbicides ; the aim is for dialogue. There was a reconnection with the earth, its creatures and with one another, also with mind, body and heart of which we are made ; there was a healing of alienation. The Morning Moment expressed this when we gathered together for a short silence, followed by going round to say briefly how each of us was feeling that day, then a reading, often a poem, and then a short game using our bodies. Then people would disperse to their various activities for the day.
But more than this ecologically sound, low tech, way of life the Campus has an important educational role. It is a role dedicated to social ecological and cultural transition working with Engineering and Business Schools and Institutes of Higher Education at Masters level. It recognises that grass roots initiatives are not enough and that structural change is needed. While I was there officials from the Ministry of Education came to talk with Cecile. The inspiration for this project, about working on a multidisciplinary and ecological curriculum for all institutes of Higher education in France ; the Minister would visit in June, Cecile would have a free hand to develop this with the help of the other members of the Campus. The Campus aims to be` radical but not marginal’ as Cecile put it, going to the root of the problem and finding ways of structural transformation - including energy transition, industrial production, transport , new technologies, synergies concerning food etc. it would receive students, teachers, professors, seekers and practitioners. It works towards a sustainable economy by finding ways of transitioning from our current fossil fuel, economic growth dependant culture and a consumerism which is destroying our planet and its creatures and threatening complete climate chaos, sea level rise, flooding and drought and increasingly terrible weather events. Start a business or write a letter to your grandchildren it was suggested for the first group of students coming to the Campus, what personal and collective choices will you make, or will you have made ? The Campus also aims to connect to the realities around them, the local farmers, migrants in the nearby town etc. A young Ethiopian refugee, Ahmednur, is one of the members of the community.
Being in France where laicity is so important the Campus is non confessional, despite Cecile being an Assumption sister and a young Jesuit being part of the community. The Campus is open to the spiritual dimension of persons and spirituality is implicit in the community life which is built on giving and gratitude, working for the common good and a profound respect for persons and our beautiful but fragile interconnected world. While I was there a small group of us had times of prayer together and on one occasion when a JRS group was staying, a mass in the house. There I hope for a more overtly religious community alongside the Campus. Thanks must be given to the Assumption for the gift of the site and support from the sisters who recognise the importance of this wonderful initiative as prophetic for our time. May it continue to flourish and develop !
– October 2019