By Liz Dossa
Sister Elaine Pacheco feels a strong bond with Earth. She is certain that listening to its language is as essential as listening to our own bodies. What needs to be healed in us? What messages is Earth sending us through melting ice, Amazon fires and polluted seas?
Sister Elaine’s love of nature blossomed naturally during childhood. She grew up in Colorado in view of the Wet Mountains and visiting her grandparents in New Mexico in the summer.
“There were constant opportunities to be outside in the family gardens, picnics in the park, camping and hiking in the mountains,” she remembers.
Sister Elaine is devoted to healing trauma that has affected women and Earth. A licensed therapist, social worker and spiritual director, she discovered a new perspective on healing in the 1980s. She attended a workshop by somatic therapist Peter Levine and became convinced that to heal trauma, therapy needs to include the body. “An hour of body work can be worth 90 hours of talk therapy,” she says.
Her concern for Earth was intertwined with the need to heal the body.
“I followed the development of the Earth Charter in 1987 and used it as my own ‘foundation document’ for years,” Sister Elaine says.
She co-created Mountain Park Environmental Center in 1998 in Beulah, Colorado, a center that introduces elementary school children and their mothers to nature. Partnering with colleagues Helene and Dave Van Manen, Sister Elaine also created Green Women Leadership. The program mentors 13 women who have developed creative projects focused on the climate crisis and nurturing women. Under the umbrella of the organization Healthy Women Healthy Earth, the three are bringing Mercy’s Critical Concerns of Earth and Women into reality in new ways.
“If we don’t take care of the Earth, we are dead,” she says. “These 13 women could each affect 10 or 10,000.”
The women, who are chosen from across the United States, are developing projects ranging from an Earthkeeper nature preschool to writing a daily blog on the climate crisis. The group began with an October Retreat, where the women met each other and their mentors.
“My participation was an in-depth look at self-care, trauma and the Earth in the retreat,” says Sister Elaine. She perceives that before we can be effective in the world, women need to take care of themselves.
“My goal,” says Diane Mueller, a Green Woman who has been writing a daily blog for a year, “was to enhance my knowledge of environmental issues and to be with a group of like-minded women.”
Diane, a retired healthcare professional in Colorado, has found her voice through the blog. In the face of the current COVID-19 crisis, she recently insisted that, “the first line of defense is effective surveillance systems for early identification of potential pandemics.”
In her blog, she discusses the qualities of snow, the effect of the pandemic on air pollution and the healthcare workers demonstrating against the anti-lockdown protests.
Terri Flynn is an artist whose desire to share her art came out of a personal miracle. After praying with the Our Lady of Guadalupe before her mother’s cancer surgery seven years ago, she called her mother. “The surgeon said let’s do one more MRI to be sure,” said her mom breathlessly. “And he said, ‘the tumor is gone.’” They both knew that Our Lady had intervened in the physical healing. As a result, Terri’s project is to send cards with her image of Our Lady as messages of hope into the world. People respond with their appeals to Our Lady, sending the cards anonymously back to Terri, who posts the appeals on her website.
Dave, Helene and Sister Elaine each have a role in bringing the women’s ideas into reality. A nature coach and experienced planner, Dave has helped with realistic structuring and setting goals for what he calls the external global system. “Dave pushes,” says Diane with a laugh.
Focusing on the internal global system, Helene coaches the women online using Zoom with regular individual sessions. “She cheerleads,” says Diane.
Sister Elaine dispensed wisdom at the opening retreat in October. Her theme: that the Earth is traumatized. We neglect the health of the Earth in the same way we, especially women, disrespect our bodies. How do we recognize trauma? How do we heal it?
Terri says, “Sister Elaine gives us the combination of Dave and Helene in one person. She has the external global piece but also the internal global piece. We love her, who she is, her spirit, her intuition and her teachings, which are very profound.”
The key to the success of the women’s projects has been coaching and planning. Helene noted that the principal needs of the women have been support and encouragement. They have formed their own networks—calling, emailing and Zooming each other.
The women are seeds spread out into the world, Sister Elaine believes, sprouting with vision and energy, each with a personal quest, each nurturing those around them, each finding ways to “green the Earth.”
Liz Dossa is a communications manager for the Sisters of Mercy West Midwest in Burlingame, California.