Article Published in the May 5, 2014 Courier-Journal Community Challenge:



In January 1963, Thomas Merton, the author and spiritual leader, wrote from his home at the Abbey of Gethsemani near Bardstown to Rachel Carson, who had just published her  landmark book about environmental degradation, “Silent Spring.”

After outlining his admiration for her book, Merton expressed his dismay about the many abuses of the Earth caused by a purely technological civilization. “Techniques and wisdom are not by any means opposed. On the contrary, the duty of our age, the critical ‘vocation’ of modern man is to unite them in a supreme humility which will result in a totally self-forgetful creativity and service. Can we do this?”

Merton, who died five years later after becoming deeply involved in interfaith discourse and societal causes of human alienation, understood as well as any person the meanings of “Sacred Earth Sacred Self.” That rare balance, which is impermanent and ever changing, is the theme of this year’s Festival of Faiths, sponsored for the 19th year by the Center for Interfaith Relations, May 13-18 at Actors Theatre of Louisville.

In his introduction to the festival catalog, this year’s chairman, Owsley Brown III, writes: “The interconnected and fragile nature of everything reveals itself if one is brave enough to look. Life has been given to us, and in it lies a deep mystery. That mystery continues to elude science, of course, and can only truly be grasped through faith — faith in the magnificence of all creation and in what is both known and unknown.” And it is that mystery that we invite our community to explore and share during the five-day festival, which begins at 5:30 p.m. May 13 with an interfaith service, “A Call to Prayer,” at the Cathedral of the Assumption, 433 S. Fifth St.

The focus on Sacred Earth Sacred Self will be explored using panel discussions, guided meditations, commentaries, photography, film and a symposium titled “Awakening the Dreamer.” Guest speakers, who have been chosen from those who have dedicated their lives to rebuilding the relationship between humans and the Earth, will discuss such things as healing, revitalizing, reimagining a just and sustainable future, based on respect for sacred earth, sacred water and sacred soil, and leading lives that do not destroy but rather enrich the planet. In that spirit, the festival is a “Zero-Waste Event,” and in the festival catalog, instructions are included for how to host your own zero-waste event.

Among the very special guests will be the internationally acclaimed poets, essayists and environmentalists Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder. Their colloquy, on May 14 at 7 p.m. at Actors Theatre of Louisville, will be moderated by Jack Shoemaker, one of America’s leading publishers, who has been associated with Berry and Snyder for decades.

Other presenters will include Patrick Holden, founder of Great Britain’s Sustainable Food Trust and an adviser to the prince of Wales; Dr. Monica Weis, S.S.J., author of “The Environmental Vision of Thomas Merton” (2011); Dr. Julian Agyeman, professor of urban and environmental planning at Tufts University; and Hamza Yusuf, president, co-founder and senior faculty member of Zaytuna College, America’s first Muslim liberal arts college.

A complete schedule that lists speakers, times and ticket information can be found at Tickets are on sale at the Actors Theatre of Louisville box office, (502) 584-1205.

The Center for Interfaith relations is dedicated to the principle, “Many Faiths. One Heart. Common Action.” At this year’s Festival of Faiths, we look forward to expressing that objective through music, discussion, art and film. Please plan to take part in this special opportunity to explore the mystery of “Sacred Earth Sacred Self.”

Sarah Harris is Assistant Director of the Center for Interfaith Relations.