After considerable prayer and discernment we, Ruah Swennerfelt and Louis Cox, are about to embark on a spiritual journey that will be a physical journey as well.
Beginning November 1, 2007, we will begin a 1,400-mile "Peace for Earth Walk" from Vancouver, British Columbia, to San Diego, California. During this six-month sabbatical from our work as staff for Quaker Earthcare Witness, we will hold gatherings at Friends meetings and churches along the way to talk about how John Woolman’s call to Friends 250 years ago to live in "right relationship" with all Creation is just as relevant in the 21st century.
By traveling on foot with no support vehicle, we will be following the example of Woolman when he walked from meeting to meeting to share his concern about the spiritual health of the Religious Society of Friends. Desiring to engage people at a deep, personal level, we are choosing to stay with Friends along the way, as Woolman often did. Using modern transportation might increase the number of meetings we could visit, but our more deliberate mode of travel is also aimed at raising consciousness of the spiritual and environmental benefits of "slowing down to the real speed of life."
Although Woolman is best known for his witness against slavery and other social injustices, he also was increasingly aware that many Friends had lost touch with their historic witness for Truth by getting caught up in materialism, overwork, and insensitivity toward non-human creatures. We, too, are acting on an evolving understanding—that Friends who are working for peace and social justice can realize our full potential only when we reach down to the spiritual core of these concerns. At that core we see that peace and justice depend on finding solutions to such ecological problems as global warming, toxic contamination, loss of biodiversity, and our society’s unsustainable use of fossil fuels and other resources.
Woolman warned his generation about "a great injury to succeeding ages" because of their "strivings after ease and luxury and outward greatness." His prophetic message is relevant today with wars based on unjust and unsustainable use of nonrenewable resources. We also see manifold social and ecological disruptions resulting from overconsumption and population pressures.
This growing understanding has called us to make radical changes in our own lifestyles and to work for critical public policy changes. We hope that our words and actions during this journey will be a catalyst for others to take similar actions. We also hope that these interactions with Friends from a broad cross-section of the Religious Society of Friends will enhance our work with QEW, as well as enrich and inform our worldviews and understandings.
Our method will be to listen and to share with others what we have learned about living simply, justly, and richly in a world of limited resources that must be shared equitably with other human and nonhuman beings. We will facilitate discussions and role-playing to discern what Woolman would advise today about living with greater simplicity and integrity, in order to experience greater peace, inwardly and outwardly. Since we see these visits as part of a continuing relationship with each meeting, we will leave copies of a study guide we have compiled to encourage Friends to continue learning from John Woolman’s words and example, while anyone interested in learning more about John Woolman can read The Journal and Major Essays of John Woolman, edited by Phillips P. Moulton.
Our "Peace for Earth Walk" grows from the same roots as our marriage, a shared commitment to walk more gently on the Earth. The choice of living a simpler lifestyle does not feel like a sacrifice; instead, we feel that our lives are richer because of it. We know that the crises of our age call for even deeper commitment, which we hope to achieve by taking leave of relatively comfortable living conditions and sharing more of the difficulties and challenges with which people all over the world are struggling.
We have the additional inspiration of Joseph Hoag, a 19th-century Vermont Quaker who followed the example of Woolman and others by traveling among Quaker meetings in witness against slavery. (We are often reminded of his work because we happen to live only about a mile from what used to be his farm!)
We probably would not be undertaking this dramatic and daunting effort if it were not for our conviction that we are living in a time of planetary crisis on many levels, all of which are reflections of a deep spiritual crisis. We hear a call from the Creator to awaken to our complicity in this crisis and to undertake the necessary radical changes to leave a healthy, peaceful, and just planet for future generations.
We are developing a website, http://www.peaceforearth.org, where Friends will be able to follow our plans and, once we’re on the walk, follow our journey.