Commuter Challenge: How sustainability helps us find spirituality and how spirituality helps us find sustainability

Submitted by Emma Norton, Ecology Action Centre, Halifax:

It can be exhausting to reduce our environmental impact in a society that tells us to consume and has little substantial regard for ecosystems or creatures beside ourselves. Despite the many merits of walking or biking, cars tend to be much more convenient in cities built for single-passenger vehicle transportation.

And yet, we challenged ourselves during the Faith Commuter Challenge to tread more lightly in creation. Why do we do it? Do we truly believe that each action is a drop that will someday be part of a bucket full of societal change? Does the bucket analogy truly align with the massive change necessary for a world where we are more harmonious with nature and each other?

River at Shambhala Centre

River at Shambhala Centre

“Never would we have thought that dumpster diving or taking shorter showers would have won us the war against Hitler,” says River, a Faith Commuter Challenge participant from Halifax’s Shambhala Centre.

I asked two of the Faith Commuter Challenge ambassadors why this challenge is important.

Rev. Bull and Rodin at St. Margarets of Scotland

Rev. Bull and Rodin at St. Margarets of Scotland

Reverend Canon Charles Bull, of St. Margarets of Scotland is known throughout the faith communities in Halifax for his eco and social justice perspective. He and his wife, Reverend Michelle Bull, have given up a second car in favour of biking more and using a local car share program. Reverend Bull says the challenge, “plants a seed”.  Reverend Bull often talks about the environmental responsibilities of Christians, but trying new ways to engage are important.

Dan Corbett at Shambhala

Dan Corbett at Shambhala

Dan Corbett is in charge of Community Engagement and Enrichment at the Shambhala Centre in Halifax. Dan, though asked at a time separate than Reverend Bull, and not knowing the Reverend’s answer, responded also that the challenge “planted a seed” and made the Shambhala Centre’s Open House participants more open to hearing from an environmentally minded Teacher.

Dan says that it’s important to merge spirituality with environmental sustainability because “at this time in history, practicing sustainability takes a toll on us. It’s so much easier to consume and live unsustainably. Sustainability is emotionally draining and requires more thought. We can have tools from spiritual sustainability to help us.”

Universalist Unitarian participants

Universalist Unitarian participants

For many who participated in the challenge, biking was not an option, but carpooling was. Carpooling can also bring a sense of community and connection. Many people carpool to their place of workshop every week, creating a connection that they might otherwise have not had. Connections like these are also important in a society that preaches individualism, and can help us see the world differently.

Maybe the Commuter Challenge fosters community in ways that were unexpected, through sharing your transportation, or by seeing your city from the new perspective of walking of cycling. Maybe the Challenge reminded us of the importance of spirituality in our daily struggles. Or maybe, it planted the seed for a more engaged participation in the next ecologically-themed event, or next year’s commuter challenge. In the end, perhaps it can be said that stewardship is strengthened by spirituality just as spirituality is strengthened by stewardship.