Report by Matt Whitney, Spiritual Directors International
With comments by Elizabeth Guss, volunteer
I was first inspired by the Climate Ribbon when I witnessed it at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto. I was there on behalf of Spiritual Directors International (SDI), to build relationships and partner with people and other organizations. Our work is to advocate for spiritual companions – people who listen to others on a deep level.
I was moved by the ritual space created by the Climate Ribbon Project. Most topic-oriented art objects I encounter tend to veer into polemics or offer didactic stances one way or another (“Climate change is bad! Stop driving your car! Etc, etc”). What I found resonant is how the Project creates space both for reflection and for companionship. The project invites the viewer in to participate with the work in two ways. It invites the viewer to contribute via writing on a ribbon, to share that which the viewer stands to lose to climate chaos. I took a ribbon and wrote “snow capped peaks” – the mountains I climb with my dad, in which their delicate ecosystems depend on winter snowpack. This was added to the Project, but this is only half of the equation. I am then invited to view someone else’s ribbon, and to hold their contribution as prayer, as remembering, and I would add, as spiritual companioning. Seeing all the ribbons together, in grief and in hope, unites us in our longing and in our action.
Upon returning home from Toronto, my focus shifted to planning for the SDI Annual Conference, which just took place in Bellevue, Washington this past March. As the Visual Media Coordinator, part of my work is to bring artistic expression and visual aesthetic to our conference spaces. The Climate Ribbon Project presents itself as an open-source DIY installation that takes on the shape of the locality and participants in which it is manifested. Between myself and Lizzie Salsich, our Community Outreach Coordinator, we collaborated with the Climate Ribbon Project Team and worked out a plan to bring the project to Bellevue for our conference.
For our local version of the project, I knew that I wanted to reinhabit the memories of my childhood, and build it from fallen tree branches. Together with Kristen Hobby, our Australia Coordinator who lives in Singapore, we went to Bridle Trails State Park, a 489-acre wooded sanctuary near where I grew up, and gathered fallen branches to create the “shelter” for our installation.
From there, I compiled materials to serve as the structure. Rae Abileah, Project Team Member, sent us a box of ribbons to use. We took our materials to the Meydenbauer Center where our conference was being held, and I entrusted two wonderful volunteers, Missy French and Elizabeth Guss, with the assembly. They did an amazing job, considering I gave them a pile of tree branches, some twine, and some 2x2s and told them to make something based on a very rough “back-of-a-napkin” sketch that I made that morning!
We assembled the structure from local Douglas Fir and Red Cedar branches, to which I have a deep spiritual connection. The finished installation took on the form of a shelter, in which one could stand within and be covered by its thick green branches and breathe in the sweet complexities of its comingled scents.
The 2019 Spiritual Directors International Conference was in my backyard and I volunteered to help with setup and cleanup. Somehow, within the lovely order of the universe, I was given the assignment to assemble the Climate Ribbon project – Northwest Style. What a fun opportunity to reflect in action.
From a simple sketch of a U-shaped arbor, we worker bees assembled lumber to create a frame and draped it generously with freshly-cut evergreen boughs and branches. Putting fir branches on the frame, we enjoyed the clean fragrance reminding us of where we live. Putting up the ribbons from previous displays, we connected to people from other countries with their yearnings and love of nature. The ribbons became both a visual and a spiritual immersion into the beauty of our created world.
Photos by Lizzie Salsich
I reflected on what I would miss, what I loved and feared losing. My two ribbons spoke of my own experience of loving the created world, our common home.
Over the three days of the conference, the ribbons grew in number as others penned their own thoughts. From a sprinkling of ribbons from previous locations, the arbor grew almost opulent with its prayers for our earth. Inside connected to outside with simple materials through loving hearts.
The display provided ritual space for our conference participants – a contemplative shelter where one could find a bit of rest and oasis amidst our rich (and sometimes intense) plenary talks and workshops. It offered spiritual companionship – I saw many participants wearing on their wrists the ribbons they had taken that others had contributed, as shared grief and a walking prayer. It also offered us the space to contemplate action – something that our organization is exploring as we collectively move from our meditation cushions and out into the world in service to our communities and in hope to the world.
When the conference concluded, I helped take the display down. That was the opportunity for me to read more prayers and brief comments on ribbons. It was then that I took a ribbon for my continued prayer. Hana from Wisconsin, some 45 years younger than I, is now my prayer companion in love of Earth.
Our version of the Climate Ribbon Project embodied everything I had hoped for in bringing it to our conference. Its inherent flexibility and open-source nature allowed for us to bring to it our organizational focus on spiritual companionship and contemplative practice. The project inhabits both a ritual and a political space, and brings both together harmoniously – a language which we desperately need in these urgent times. And on a personal level, it allowed for me to create it using locally-sourced materials, as well as the “locally-sourced” content of my own memories of this place; it allowed for me to walk under these trees I so deeply cherish, and to offer gratitude for them. I was able to process the possibility that these things are not permanent, and renewed the vigor and responsibility I have to protect these things, for myself, my 10-year-old son, and to gather with all peoples who too walk under these trees, under these snow-capped peaks, and see that we are all one.
Photos by Lizzie Salsich and Paul Tonnes