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Writing the Benedictine Eco-Handbook: a personal account

March 6 2007:

Bill Bartlett and his son Kieran

The writer of the Benedictine/ARC/World Bank handbook Bill Bartlett reflects on the experience of writing the book - a process that involves looking back at the most pivotal period of his life so far.

"The process of writing “Listening to the Earth” began in the early part of 2004 when Sister Annette Marshall of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie asked me, almost casually, if I would be interested in writing an environmental handbook for their communities in Latin America. Just as casually I accepted, not knowing at all what would be expected.

It turned out that there was little in terms of expectations. My only instructions were to construct a book to enable someone in Latin America with only a primary level of education to perform an environmental audit of their community.

Within a month or two I had created a skeleton handbook of about ten pages; however, it was clear that more thought was required. It was suggested that I write a little introduction to each section before asking questions. So, I began researching for information pertinent to the life-situations of Latin-americanos. And I began to realize that some problems were complex, that some were already well-researched and had alternative practices, while some important problems lacked both research and practical alternatives. The simple handbook assignment became a little more challenging.

"In the writing of it I grew to understand much more fully the precarious situation that we all share on this earth; and I also grew more aware that a disproportionate share of our environmental catastrophes are borne by the poorest on this earth." Bill Bartlett.
Then I learned that my partner was pregnant, and I would become a father for the first time. And also I learned that my father had a serious form of cancer and a few months to live. These new factors greatly influenced the progress of the project. Our son Kieran Liam was born on 21 Oct 2004; my father died three months later. In the middle of all this confusion I struggled to continue the work on this project.

Link here to read the preface in English
Link here to download the whole book in English.
Link here to download the whole book in Portuguese.
Link here to download the whole book in Spanish.

Please note that the handbooks are around 1.2MB in size.

It became clear that I was actually producing more of a manual than a handbook (in terms of size and depth), that the content would be applicable to many more people than the Benedictines, and that my actual work involved a great deal more compiling and adapting than creation and writing. Nevertheless, my contacts at Earth Force and ARC reassured me that the content was good, and to keep going. I must acknowledge the patience and understanding of people at both Earth Force and ARC, because a project that originally had a six month turn-around was turned into a three year tour of duty.

Listening to the Earth was a joint effort between the World Bank, the Benedictines and ARC
In the end, however, I believe I was able to assemble a text that has the potential to affect many more people than originally intended.

In the writing of it I grew to understand much more fully the precarious situation that we all share on this earth; and I also grew more aware that a disproportionate share of our environmental catastrophes are borne by the poorest on this earth.

Perhaps the most important personal insight I gained was that I learned how advantageous it can be to work in cooperation even with those with whom I might disagree. I learned to trust and to heed advice of those who were quite philosophically divergent from myself. I am truly grateful for the input and advice of the people from the World Bank who helped guide the text into a more well-reasoned and accessible work.

I hope my small contribution will help carry the works of numerous individuals and organizations to a much wider audience. I also hope that this work will remind its readers of our deep, profound, and spiritual connection to the Mystery of Creation.


Bill Bartlett; USA; 1 March 2007

Link here to connect to the Lake Erie-Allegheny Earth Force website.
Link here to contact the sisters at the Lake Erie-Allegheny Earth Force.
Link here to learn about ARC's other projects with the World Bank.
Link here to read the preface in English
Link here to download the whole book in English.
Link here to download the whole book in Portuguese.
Link here to download the whole book in Spanish.

Please note that the handbooks are around 1.2MB in size.



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Related pages

January 15 2007:
Benedictines listen to the Earth
Benedictine sisters of Lake Erie in Pennsylvania have published an eco-handbook for Benedictine communities in Latin America. "More than ever, the earth is calling to us. Are we listening?"
Benedictine Handbook: Preface
"There are two moments in history when Benedictinism has been needed in a very special way: the first was in the 6th century; the second is now." Sister Joan Chittister writes a persuasive preface in the Benedictine Environment Audit handbook, Jan 2007.
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