For 10 days in the tropical rainforests of Darién and the urban landscape of Panama City, scientists and academics converged with theologians, sisters, writers and spiritual seekers to explore the places where ecology, spirituality and science intersect in the context of the web of life. Now that I'm back home in Mexico, Panama lingers in my memory.
Web of Life
Web of Life is a new eco-spiritual retreat and study program based at the Maryknoll Sisters' Pastoral Center in Santa Fe, Darién, Panama. Global Sisters Report invites readers to follow along in a series of blogs, videos and photo galleries in the most recent retreat, held in June 2017. This union of spirituality and science is articulated in a series of reflections by theologians and scientists in settings as diverse as bustling Panama City, an organic farm and a tropical forest. Read more about the program.
The Panama Canal, the highlight of our last day, was a study in contradictions after the full immersion in the natural world of Darién. In the context of the Web of Life, I think beyond this place and this moment, where 3,000 people will visit with their cameras and iPhones and take selfies in front of the moving machines. I think of the 30,000 people who died in the creation of this canal. I think of the mountains moved, the thousands of acres of forests flooded and wetlands drained, and the millions of gallons of fresh water being flushed into the sea with the movement of every ship.
The day was one of transition. Two earlier presenters, Hermel López, regional environment ministry representative for Darién, and Osvaldo Jordán of the Alianza para el Desarrollo y Conservación shared reflections about the future for Matusagaratí and its meaning as a microcosm of the larger picture. Participants joined in a thought-provoking reflection , then the group immediately jumped into a series of activities until nearly 10 p.m. in Panama City. Today, Friday, is the last day, and we will go to see the Panama Canal and then have an integration ceremony.
Though we started with a somber presentation, as the day progressed, we moved to celebrate a rich abundance of life in many manifestations. And on our last night in Darién, we were caught up in the cosmic dance.
National Geographic Emerging Explorer Ricardo Moreno is a man in a race against time. The Panamanian biologist's great love is the biggest cat in the Americas, the jaguar, which is being extinguished at a precipitous rate in Panama.
Long before the tropical birds began their sunrise call-and-response from the treetops, a sleepy band of travelers boarded their transport, headed deep into the heart of Panama's largest wetlands system.
"This is ultimately a spiritual fight": Panama's political context weighs heavily on retreat-goers, including a biologist worried about habitat loss and an environmental director sanctioned for trying to enforce the law.
Past the coconut palm and the greenhouse and the tree nursery, alongside the garden of medicinal plants like ginger and turmeric and aloe vera, following a busy procession of leaf-cutter ants, the Web of Life retreatants' happy chatter rang through the trees as they walked through the Maryknoll Pastoral Center's forest.
Panama's importance in the history of planet Earth is hard to exaggerate. Nearly 3 million years ago, the iconic land bridge emerged to join two continents and divide a vast ocean in two, opening a bridge to a massive migration of species and shifting of ocean currents. It triggered an ice age and may have helped create conditions that led to the evolution of humans.
The first in a 10-day series of eco-spiritual explorations began with a ritual and reflection on origins of the universe. Attendees introduced themselves and shared a bit of their collective sum of life experience.
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