Parliament of the World’s Religions: Spiritual Ecology and Sacred Rebellion

Grants Program, Spiritual Ecology Fellowship
Four Spiritual Ecology Fellows on a panel at the Parliament of the World’s Religions watch a fifth Fellow presenting from the podium.

The Parliament of the World’s Religions international conference convenes representatives from diverse spiritual backgrounds to promote mutual respect and nurture social justice and ecological restoration across the world. This year’s conference, The Spiritual Evolution of Humanity and Healing Mother Earth, dedicated a significant portion of programming to Indigenous-led presentations. Kalliopeia supported scholarships and travel for participating Native American spiritual leaders. And several of our Spiritual Ecology Fellows also attended the event, including Kate Weiner, who is a grant recipient for Loam Magazine. She wrote this article about her experience at the conference.

Spiritual Ecology Fellows Kyle Lemle, brontë velez, Orion Camero, Lucía Oliva Hennelly, and I presented a panel at the conference on “Spiritual Ecology and Sacred Rebellion.” It was a cherished opportunity to share our projects with this spiritual community as well as to highlight the role of youth in bridging the divide between spiritual practices and embodied environmental activism. Our intention was to collaboratively celebrate new ways of bringing spiritual ecology into being and to examine what it means to be “chaplains of movement [building],” as Kyle so beautifully articulated in his introduction to our panel.

To that end, we chose to open and end our presentation with ritual. Once folks had found their seats, brontë offered a grounding prayer to create a container for connection. This moment of pause underscored our collective mission to illuminate how ceremony, ritual, prayer, and presence can be interwoven into our everyday lives. And after an hour and a half of sharing, storytelling, and Q&A, Orion closed the session with song and a story that we rolled out from a scroll. As we stood in a circle unraveling moments of climate collapse, community protest, and regeneration, I was struck at how healing it was to subtly shift the landscape of the conference space through choosing to be in community. In a small room without natural light in a vast hall in the heart of a rainy and beautiful city, we had gathered together to create something luminous and lovely through the power of prayer and presence.

Connecting through the container of ceremony was just one way that the fellowship sought to highlight the interconnectedness of our work. In preparing for our presentation, each one of us wanted to articulate how our unique projects work together as parts of a larger ecosystem. Although our approaches to spiritual ecology and sacred rebellion are distinct, our projects, praxis, and perspectives support and sustain each other.

In their powerful presentation on Lead to Life, a community-powered initiative to alchemize violence into love by transforming weapons of trauma into tools for planting trees, brontë and Kyle reflected on how ceremony helps us re-envision and re-articulate limiting social constructs. As brontë noted, “ceremony helps us relate to deeper senses of time.” When you are in ceremony—planting a tree to honor the loss of life, planting a prayer to acknowledge the violence that lives deep within the land you are on—you are in relationship to non-linear scales of time. And, as Kyle shared, it’s these new understandings of time as connected to the cosmos, to the soil, and to the stories of our elders that give us room to “reimagine violence.”

Reimagination likewise factored into Lucía’s reflection on (re)constitute, an initiative that seeks to bring together youth from diverse movement spaces to facilitate integrative, reciprocal, and regenerative approaches to climate justice. In the face of stark divisiveness across environmental spaces, Lucía’s intention is to create a container for reimagining the relationship between climate organizers, scientists, environmental activists, and “Big Green” employees through organizing immersive and intimate retreats to bring activists from disparate disciplines into dynamic conversation with each other. As Lucía underscored in her presentation, “We can’t grow if there’s not trust.”

Orion’s presentation was a vibrant response to the question: “How can we use creative storytelling to build the world we want to see?” By sharing posters, artwork, and practices that emerged from the California Allegory Youth Fellowship—a four-month artist-activist intensive that sought to use creativity as a catalyst for sparking climate action—Orion wove together a potent portrayal of the power of art to change minds, heal community, and engage youth in the fight for a thriving future.

Much like Orion, I focused on creative storytelling in my own presentation about Loam, a magazine that I edit. My hope was to illuminate how Loam’s multifaceted approach to media can be a tool for inspiring embodied environmental activism, values-based living, and creative community. I spoke of the need to balance the personal, poetic, and political in our storytelling strategies and of my desire to transform Loam into a platform for amplifying the voices of powerful projects—such as Lead to Life, (re)constitute, and California Allegory Youth Fellowship.

After our presentations, we answered questions on what spiritual ecology and sacred rebellion mean to us. brontë spoke about using ceremony as a way for “healing [her] relationship to scarcity”; Lucía offered insight into how rebellion is about “being in different relationships with advocacy” by reframing the personal and political as sites of change; and Orion meditated on what we can do to “unearth the systems that imagine collective service.” Wrapping up our session with these kinds of heartfelt questions helped us be in closer conversation with our audience. We wanted the space we were sharing to feel participatory and potent, and so it was especially beautiful to hear from the community about what was alive in their hearts after sharing our stories.

Going into the Parliament, the Fellows and I weren’t quite sure what to expect. Most of us are used to speaking in spaces shaped by climate justice rather than spiritual advocacy. The response to our presentation, however, was an affirmation of the need to bring our stories into these kind of spaces, and we left that day grateful for and energized by the experience.