DSC07355.jpg{Just for some Lenten fun (!), I am looking through the Kellam kitchen cupboard for inspiration as I shape meditations, or more precisely, reflections for this 40 day season of preparation for the Easter festival.}

Today’s mug, filled with fair trade fuel, carries the logo of a small, but well-respected, liberal arts college in Bar Harbor, Maine. The College of the Atlantic [ click here ] was founded in 1969, and welcomed its first graduating class in 1972. Today the school has 350 students, 35 faculty members, and a staff of 70. There is only one major: human ecology.

Here is how the college describes its offerings:

A human ecological perspective integrates knowledge from all academic disciplines and from personal experience to investigate—and ultimately improve—the relationships between human beings and our social and natural communities. The human ecological perspective guides all aspects of education, research, activism, and interactions among the college’s students, faculty, staff, and trustees.

Its campus has been described as one of the most beautiful in the U.S. And why not? It is located on Mount Desert Island, between Acadia National Park and Frenchman’s Bay. Students use both the park and the coastal waters of Maine as their laboratories. Ten years ago, COA became the nation’s first carbon-neutral college, and it proclaims that sustainability is central to everything the school does. Last year, Sierra Magazine (of the Sierra Club naturally) named COA the greenest college in the country. The school’s website says that The College of the Atlantic is for idealists…with elbow grease.

My son Jim went there in the early 1990s when I think there were just half the number of students at COA as now. It was the perfect school for him in many ways. It provided the foundation for his later doctorate in biology and his college teaching profession. He became an expert in woodpeckers there; was in “Sunday in the Park with George” there; participated in the weekly “All-College Meetings” where student self-governance and community-building  created a forum for future practical political activism; and in his first year there, his campus work was centered in the school’s office for something called “Allied Whale,” the marine mammal laboratory that specializes in whale research. (You can adopt a whale there, too.)

Campus dining, concerts, sculpture classes, greenhouses, the impressive library, the school’s sailing vessels, and classes from physics to ornithology, from gender studies to environmental law, and from literature to climate change…it’s the perfect package for anyone concerned with the environment, ecology, creation itself.

And one of its founders was a Catholic priest and peace activist Fr. James Gower. It’s not a religious school, unaffiliated with any church. It’s a private small college with a unique focus. Still, I am so impressed and thankful, that Fr. Gower from the start helped shape the vision of COA. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,” the familiar old translation of Psalm 24:1 reads. And among the priorities of this age is “earth-keeping.” Some call it honoring creation. Others advocate for “environmental justice,” or “stewardship of the earth.” The earth is the Lord’s, yes, and it is the only home we have. Whether we are mainly conservation-minded, or radically environmentalist, we cannot ignore climate change, waste precious water resources, or poison the air we and our global neighbors breathe.

Thanks be to God for the Fr. Gowers of the good earth for their pioneering efforts at both raising consciousness and spurring action to protect this life-giving planet.

Maybe this Lenten season might include some thought as to how we keep earth from becoming a global wilderness in which we are all tempted to look out only for ourselves in order to survive. If the earth does belong to God, and all that is in it, we creatures might join in singing Brian Wren’s words:

“Thank you, God, for making planet earth

 a home for us and ages yet unborn.

Help us to share, consider, save, and store.

Come and renew the face of the earth.”

(Wren’s hymn “Thank You, God, for Water, Soil, and Air,” 1973 )

Seems even more appropriate now that my COA mug is brimming with certified Fair Trade Coffee. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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