and the Arts at Springbank
- by Lori Golaszewski
Perhaps St. Bernard said it best: "You will learn more in woods than you will in books. The trees and stones will teach you what you will never learn in the school of the masters." One of the places that best epitomizes this philosophy is Springbank, a center for eco-spirituality and the arts located in Kingstree, South Carolina.
Founded as a plantation in the 1770s, Springbank has been a center for retreats, hospitality, healing and the arts for more than 50 years. Travel the magnolia tree-lined entrance leading to Springbank and you'll be transported to a quiet, rural setting on 80 acres of land. Here you can indeed be a student of the natural world, for your surroundings include a wooded area, walking trails, ancient live oaks, flowering camellias, gum trees, and a swamp wilderness that is home to a unique eco-system and a vast array of vegetation and wildlife.
"Our main thrust is raising consciousness for the care of Earth, living in a greener, more sustainable way, and preserving Earth for future generations," said Trina McCormick, OP, director. "What we hope will happen for participants is that by experiencing the different programs in the arts and earth education that we offer, we'll help them connect in a more intimate way with the sacredness of Earth and all of creation. We hope their time away will not be a diversion, but a conversion toward developing a reverence for life and a mutually enhancing relationship with Earth and Cosmos."
Springbank offers numerous programs that reflect its mission of living simply, creating beauty, and respecting Earth and all beings. One of its most popular offerings is a one- to three-month sabbatical program that provides a healing environment for those in transition, those in need of spiritual or physical renewal, and those seeking new ways of relating to Earth. Built into the sabbatical experience is an enrichment program focused on the new cosmology, earth education, the arts and wellness. Classes on native spirituality and eco-spirituality, dream work, tai chi and healing massage are offered, as well as pottery, basketry, painting, creative movement with music, native crafts and herbal remedies.
"Art is very basic to what we do at Springbank," Sister Trina noted. "We feel our Creator did not skimp on creativity with anyone. When people come on sabbatical, it's a time for them to tap into their creativity. The classes enable people to connect with themselves and with God and the oneness of creation."
Springbank also offers programs by noted presenters. "Earth is a Mystic, Full of God," for instance, was presented March 24-26 by Helen Prejean, CSJ, author of Dead Man Walking, and Marya Grathwohl, OSF. Sister Marya, along with Miriam MacGillis, OP, and Larry and Jean Edwards, is hosting "An Earth Literacy Intensive ~ Exploring the New Cosmology" from March 27 to April 6. A Holy Week Retreat with Father Jim Conlon, Margaret Galiardi, OP, and Pat Siemen, OP, will be held April 9-16, and "Native Spirituality: A Gathering of Elders," with Terry Eaton, Roy Wilson and Zelima Xochiquetzal, is planned for May 11-15. In addition, spiritual direction, healing massage and hermitage experiences are regularly offered at Springbank.
"We want guests to find healing for their mind, body, spirit and emotions," Sister Trina explained, "so that when they leave, they feel more whole and balanced. Everything that's offered here, from the food to massage to healing touch and energy work, help in bringing balance to a person."
While visiting Springbank, guests are encouraged to enjoy the beauty of the grounds, which include seven sacred sites: the gazebo chapel in the woods; the Lourdes grotto; a labyrinth; the Native American medicine wheel; the circle of pines; the living cosmic walk through the woods; and the Grandmother Tree, a 1200-year-old live oak tree. There is also a swamp sanctuary in the wetlands that is home to owls, ducks, egrets, herons, beaver and other wildlife. Sister Trina plans to build a 100-foot boardwalk into the area to make it more accessible.
Living simply and being awake and alert to creation is a daily practice for the Springbank staff, which also includes Sharon Culhane, OP, Ursula Ording, OP, Karla Barker, OSF, Betty Knox, OSF, and Judy Markiewicz, SND. Accommodations for the retreatants and staff are simple but lovely, and the living rooms offer beautiful views of the trees, birds and flowers. Meals, which are prepared by Sister Ursula, former director, are mostly vegetarian with occasional meat or fish. Kitchen wastes are used for composting; Equal Exchange fair trade coffee is served; and medicinal herbs are grown for healing and cooking purposes. In addition, natural materials such as clay, wisteria vine and pine needles are used in art projects.
Sister Trina, who has ministered at Springbank for 19 years, believes that, if every person adopted these small measures into their daily lives, the result would be a new way of seeing one another and of seeing Earth. "Sister Pat Siemen said to me that, with so much ecological devastation, places like Springbank teach us what we can do to reverence life and give witness to hope for the future," Sister Trina said. "The great work of our time is to care for Earth, to be attentive, and to know how we can be supportive of the health and well-being of this beautiful planet and save it for future generations. In our own small and humble way, our ministry at Springbank is transforming our Church through a deeper connection with Earth."