The mission of the Passionist Earth and Spirit Center is to cultivate a community of transformative learning and service, committed to spiritual development, social compassion, and care for the Earth. Their numerous programs strive to manifest their vision of a single, sacred Earth community in which all members flourish.
Five questions with Kyle Kramer, Executive Director
Where do ecology, culture, and spirituality connect in your work?
KK: The Earth & Spirit Center was founded with the guidance of, and in the lineage of, Thomas Berry, and we’ve tried to uphold his insight that the health of our culture, our inner lives, and our planet can’t be separated. In fact, one of the core aspects of our mission is to use spiritual practices, such as mindfulness meditation and contemplative experience of the natural world, to break down the illusion of separateness, such that individual flourishing becomes of a piece with the flourishing of communities and the Earth. We do that through non-credit classes and workshops, active engagement with Louisville’s underserved communities, and ecological projects and land-based experiential programs on our 27-acre urban campus, such as a permaculture food forest, developing wetland ecosystems, and a community farm for refugees.
What brought you to this work?
KK: Prior to becoming the director of the Earth & Spirit Center, I ran graduate theology and ministry programs by day, and I ran a 27-acre organic farm and homestead by evening, early morning, and weekend. When the opportunity came about to lead the Earth & Spirit Center, my family and I had to make an excruciating choice to leave the farm we’d loved back to health for fifteen years and the energy-efficient, net-positive home we’d built ourselves. The grief of that letting go is still deep in me, even five years later, but the great consolation has been the opportunity to do wonderfully challenging work that integrates all of my deep loves and concerns in a more focused, public way—for the good of soul, society, and soil.
What do you see happening in your field—or beyond, in the world—that you’re really excited about?
KK: I’m thrilled that more and more world-changers—community activists, environmentalists, and others—are beginning to understand that lasting social change must be more than policy or technological solutions, or the victory of “our” side over “theirs.” So many more people realize that real change requires a new spiritual perspective, namely, affirming our deep intuition that we belong inextricably to each other and the rest of the non-human world. Along with this, it’s becoming clear that such a perspective can be nurtured and strengthened by contemplative practices, such as mindfulness and sacred rituals. I feel that although we face myriad difficult, frightening challenges, we were made for these times and have all the resources we need. I think Thomas Berry was right: “In the immense story of the universe, that so many of these dangerous moments have been navigated successfully is some indication that the universe is for us rather than against us. We need only summon these forces to our support in order to succeed.”
What keeps you going?
KK: In the end, I take solace in three things. The first is the amazing people I’m blessed to know, love, and serve. The second is the soul-deep, heart-centered conviction that the Divine is loving us toward communion, even through a perilous time. Finally, I owe my sanity to being outside, whether in a garden, in the woods, or on a crag while rock climbing. For me, this is best captured in “The Peace of Wild Things,” a poem written by my mentor, Wendell Berry:
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
KK: I’m blessed and cursed by a wide range of loves and interests, which fill my mind, my heart, and my days—sometimes to overflowing. The first is my family: my wife and I are committed to raising our three children to love and belong in the natural world and to become their own unique selves. I’m a writer of books and have been a regular columnist with various magazines over many years. I’m also a rock climber, a musician, a gardener, a carpenter / house builder / woodworker, and a voracious reader.