Caroline Holmes (C’17, T’19) reflects on nature and religion with Earthkeepers


Sewanee’s Greenhouse, the theme house that facilitated discussion on Earthly Communion.

By Sydney Leibfritz
Staff Writer

With string-lights and side lamps casting off the perfect amount of dim illumination, the Greenhouse living room transformed into the perfect, intimate atmosphere for a discussion on Earthly Communion. A small crowd sat circled around a coffee table filled with snacks, quietly talking amongst themselves. The evening’s featured guest, Caroline Holmes (C’17, T’19), laughed along with the conversation as she searched through her notebook for the journal entry she would be sharing.

Holmes is anything but a stranger to Sewanee. She graduated last year from the University as an Environmental Studies major and has since relocated to the School of Theology to pursue a Masters of Arts in Religion and the Environment.

The discussion was hosted by Earthkeepers, a student-led organization dedicated to hosting conversations on environmental issues, especially as they relate to religion and spirituality.

“One of the things that I find really important when I first think of bodies and the environment is acknowledging that we’re all embodied creatures. For me, understanding that I am an embodied creature, that it’s not just some mind floating around in this body that will disintegrate at some point, that’s not how I view my place in the world,” Holmes began.

Nearly all of her work is shaped by the concept of “affect theory,” the notion that humans are constantly bombarded by sensations and, even if they fail to register it, each one leaves some impact on each individual in some capacity, whether physically, mentally, or spiritually. Holmes shapes her understanding of the world around her by this principle, and as a result, she dedicates a fair portion of her time to just intentionally existing in natural spaces.  

Through her years of practice, this has manifested in numerous forms. For example, just one of her daily intentional acts of awareness might be restricting her driving as much as possible, instead opting to make the daunting twenty-five minute trek from her house to her work at Stirling’s Coffeehouse.

“Although it would be easier for me to hop in my car, it’s more important for me to be intentional in those 25 minutes and use that time to be outside and understand the world around me,” she explained.

She then revealed that she surprises even herself in how she ends up utilizing that designated time frame, citing her recent attempts at mimicking bird songs, something she had never tried before.

Holmes’s passions for religion and the environment often work in tandem, a fact she learned early in her Sewanee career. “My freshman year here, when I didn’t have a car and I didn’t feel comfortable going to All Saints’ for church, I would just grab my Bible and go out to Beckwith Point, and that would be my spiritual renewal for the week,” she commented.

As her intentionality towards embodiment and affect theory became more relevant, she began journaling and listing off new changes worth implementing into her life.

She shared one with the audience entitled “How to Walk Slowly: A Reminder For Speedy People,” which chronicled a series of pointers on slowing the momentum on hikes. Some examples included “pet the moss,” “look at the trees, not your feet,” and “watch the fog billow up out of the cove like smoke from a giant bonfire.”

Her second reading was a reflection on a brief poem from Wendell Berry’s A Timbered Choir collection. Berry’s poem focuses heavily on sources of joy and how little things can be impactful. In her reflection, Holmes described how Berry’s poem inspired her to search for small things in life that brought her happiness, like watching a “little bug friend” crawl across her desk in class.

Holmes then began answering questions from the attendees. From offering opinions on the destruction of nature to reflecting on how nature-based studies have impacted her interactions with other people, the discussion was just as lively and fascinating as the lecturer herself.

One of the final points raised came as Holmes discussed the importance of perspective. “You see everything, but what lens do you read it with? You have to be aware your view is limited by your lens. It’s owning what you know to be right and true but understanding you don’t know it all,” she explained.

When asked what she considers to be her lens, Holmes simply answered that she mostly perceives the interconnectivity of her environment and subsequently tries to remain cognizant of the effects her actions have on the environment.

Holmes’s advice can be seen as especially valuable right now in the midst of the controversy and contention constantly surrounding people both on campus and off.