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'Spiritual care needed in battle against climate change'

20 March 2024
Extinction Rebellion activists often feel lonely in their struggle. Targeted spiritual care can help them -and others- persevere, says VU alumnus Marlous Ockhuysen (Faculty of Religion and Theology). "It is important that spiritual caregivers participate more actively in the social debate on climate change."

"In my life, I have always been focused on nature and people in my (close) surroundings. For me, nature means feeling connected to my daily environment: birds in my garden, trees along the road while biking, looking someone else into the eyes. I come from a Catholic family who welcomed all kinds of spiritual expressions, and who were always respectful to different believes. My personal life story prompted me to follow the Interfaith Spiritual Care track at VU and, in the final phase of my studies, encouraged me to focus on spiritual care in combination with planetary health specifically.

Beyond climate protests

Interfaith Spiritual Care trains spiritual caregivers not to work from a specific religion, -such as Catholicism, Protestantism or Islam-but rather operate from the sum of all kinds of faiths, philosophies and spiritual ideas. That suits me well. For me, different truths can coexist. When a Christian, Muslim, humanist or atheist tells me his or her story, I am interested in finding our common grounds. This attitude- combined with my love of nature and the little activist in me- ultimately brought me to Extinction Rebellion for my master's thesis. At that time I knew about their protests on the A12 highway, but did not know much about the people behind 'the climate activists'. During my modest research, I discovered how nature, and struggling to preserve a healthy earth, is a spiritual life orientation to them. What moved me is that Extinction Rebellion draws on both academic knowledge and spiritual knowledge of Indigenous peoples.

The climate crisis concerns everyone

The combination of science and spirituality I found during my research made me realise that spiritual caregivers from both my track and, in particular, the new Spiritual Care & Planetary Health track can contribute more actively to extending the social debate on climate change. Ultimately, humanity is not separated, but inextricably linked to its natural environment and all its life forms. The climate crisis is not just something that concerns climate activists or scientists. Our place as humans in the greater realm and our interactions within this realm, is pre-eminently a topic of the spiritual caregiver’s field.

Spiritual support

My research has shown that climate activists feel lonely in battling further consequences of climate change. While the world is proverbially on fire, the crisis is not yet sufficiently heard and felt across our society. Spiritual caregivers can be of service by addressing the climate crisis, underpinned by their expertise. In addition, we can offer spiritual support to climate activists with existential and meaningfulness related questions and to anyone concerned about the consequences of climate change.

Now that I have finished my master's, I will first reflect on my next steps in the coming period, but I will definitely continue working at the intersection of spiritual care and planetary health."

More information

Looking for more information on spiritual care combined with climate change? Check out the web pages of the tracks Spiritual care & Planetary health (in Dutch) and Interfaith Spiritual Care (in Dutch).