“The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast.” - Benedict XVI

Those of us who staff the Center for Religion and Environment (CRE) here at The University of the South believe that a root cause of the environmental crises we face is spiritual in nature. Estranged from God’s presence in the world around us, many of us go about our lives oblivious to the larger consequences of our actions. On the other hand, others of us are deeply concerned about environmental issues and our own spiritual journey, but are unsure how to make the connections between them. While we may have discovered an eco-spirituality suited to our personal lives, we wonder how to make a difference in the world beyond ourselves. And many of us feel isolated, alone in our concerns. We long for a supportive community of like-minded people.

Contemplation and Care for Creation

If you relish the idea of exploring further, in company with others, the “ecology” by which Christian faith and spirituality join with an environmental consciousness, consider participating in our program on Contemplation and Care for Creation. Our ecumenical program welcomes and encourages participation from persons of all parts of the Christian family. This highly unusual program offers participants a combined exposure to the theology and the spirituality of creation care and its social implications. The program is offered annually.

The Program Schedule

Throughout the program participants will encounter the sacred in nature, interpret that experience, and reflect on its implications for their own lives and society. This involves becoming steeped in the contemplation of nature based upon classic monastic spiritual formation (utilizing its spiritual growth program, Living an Icon), studying the integral relation of creation to fundamental tenets of the Christian faith, and exploring the implications for the way humans interact with nonhuman creation. As part of this process participants will be guided in creating a rule of life to guide them after the program has ended.

The program begins with a four-day retreat, a period of prayer and residential instruction, in Sewanee. Participants will prepare for the retreat through guided reading so that the time in Sewanee can focus on discussion. Throughout the year the program continues with a variety of online activities, including 2-3 days (spaced throughout the year) of online instruction via Zoom for which they will have read in advance. Each day’s sessions will be well-spaced to minimize Zoom fatigue. Participants additionally will meet via Zoom every two weeks for two hours to practice a contemplative lesson together and will post short reports online based upon their experiences and their reading of course material. Finally, participants will practice what they have learned by organizing and leading a contemplative program or discussion program based upon CRE resource materials. At the end of the program participants will return to Sewanee for a two- or three-day retreat and wrap-up.


This year’s program will benefit from the experience of having had to offer the 2020/21 program totally online. To our surprise and delight we learned that our contemplative program, Living in an Icon, worked extremely well even when we had to do it at a distance. We also, of course, had to engage the academic work online also. Given the success of the process to date, should the Covid-19 situation by the time of the retreat make it appear unsafe to gather together in person, we will move totally online once again with confidence, having done this once before. 

Who should consider enrolling? This program is best suited for persons answering to one or more of these descriptions:
  • Those who seek a deeper, more theologically grounded understanding of how their Christian faith can inform the practice of creation care.
  • Those looking to grow spiritually through the practice of natural contemplation.
  • Those persons, both lay and ordained, who wish to serve as “Green Guides” within their parish communities or other groups.
  • Those, both lay and ordained, who seek training to lead environmentally informed offerings in Christian education or spiritual formation.
  • Those seeking a spiritually grounded, supportive community of people engaged in creation care.
learning objectives

By the end of the program participants can expect to have:

  • grown spiritually through the practice of natural contemplation
  • grown closer both to God and to God’s creation
  • grown in understanding of how the Christian faith intimately involves all of creation
  • learned how to:
    • lead an introductory event in natural contemplation
    • lead an extended program in spiritual formation involving natural contemplation
    • utilize other materials from the Center in their communities
  • received suggestions for further reading and growth
  • developed a rule of life
  • developed supportive, ongoing relationships with like-minded people

Participants who complete the program will receive a certificate of completion from The University of the South’s Center for Religion and Environment. The primary instructors for the program include Robin Gottfried, Center Director and Professor Emeritus of Economics; Jerry Cappel, Environmental Coordinator for Province IV of the Episcopal Church; and John Gatta, Dean Emeritus of the College of Arts and Sciences at Sewanee and Professor Emeritus of English. Classes will be held in the outdoors on and near the University’s Domain on the Cumberland Plateau, a nationally significant area of high biodiversity. Program enrollment is limited to 15 participants.

Program Dates

The 2021/2022 program begins with an initial retreat in Sewanee starting first thing in the morning of Wednesday, June 23, and extending through the evening of Saturday, June 26, 2021. The wrap-up session at the end of the program (late April or early May of 2022) will be determined during the initial retreat. Should the program have to go totally online, we will begin on the same dates in June as the residential retreat.


Tuition for the program is $750 with a deposit of $200 upon application. Final payment is due by May 21. This cost does not include lodging or food while in Sewanee. We are committed to helping all those interested in participating in the program to be able to come regardless of financial circumstances. Please contact the program director for information on financial aid. 

application deadline

Applications and final payments are due by May 21. Because the program requires reading in advance, we strongly recommend applying before this time in order to ensure sufficient opportunity to prepare given that instruction is based upon informed discussion, not lectures.

How to Apply

To apply for the program and submit your $200 deposit via PayPal, please complete this form

When you are ready to submit the balance of your tuition via PayPal, you may do so here.

Alternatively, you may apply by sending a cover letter discussing why you wish to participate in the program along with a check for the $200 deposit. Be sure to include in the letter your contact information, including mailing address, phone number, and email address. Make checks payable to The University of the South. 

Please send the letter and check to:

Robin Gottfried, Director
Center for Religion and Environment
The University of the South
735 University Avenue
Sewanee, TN 37383

Participants are responsible for arranging lodging and food during their stay in Sewanee. Participants sometimes cook their meals together. Because lodging in the area is limited, participants are advised to secure accommodations as soon as possible.

There are many options for accommodations in and around Sewanee. A list of available housing options (and other lodging options) may be found here. Both VRBO.com and Airbnb.com provide options in and around Sewanee. Additional motel options are available in Winchester, Decherd, and Kimball, TN, all about 30 minutes from Sewanee.

If you have any questions about the program, please contact the course director, Robin Gottfried, at rgottfri@sewanee.edu or cre@sewanee.edu.


"I would tell others to come because of the connection one makes to the others in the program and the profound way the program impacted me and my thoughts about being a part of creation and my appreciation of it. I also believe the time spent contemplating nature and sharing the experiences of doing that affects one in ways that change and shape one's thinking about and being in the world. The focus of this program had made me much more grateful for the beautiful, incredible world that God has provided for us. It also has helped me to understand that being connected to and concerned about all of creation is vital to my own spiritual health and journey."

"[This program] will challenge you to slow down and focus in a way alien to most of our life-styles. If you already have a Centering Prayer or Meditation Practice, it will offer a new way of prayer. If you don't, it will provide tools for learning to open eyes and heart to God and God's creation. You also become part of an amazing group of deep-thinking, spiritually-alive and just plain fun people - providing the promise of much-needed community support for your spiritual life."

"I wish everyone could go through this program because it addresses the whole person - the individual and the community. I can recommend books to read; I know that many organizations offer environmental stewardship programs. However, these other options still don't engage the spirit. When you learn to open yourself to the Holy Spirit in a broader arena (beyond church, etc.) you see not only the problems and possible solutions but also the true hope we need to pursue the right path. A fellowship in the Spirit completely changes the way one understands the world and one's role in it."

“I had to make sacrifices on many levels to open my schedule, my life to this class. This has been the singularly most healing experience of my adult life. This tiny piece of paradise here in Tennessee was inviting and safe and radically hospitable. I opened to the world around me in a way that has freed my spirit and grounded me in a mutually supportive journey that I could not have conjured in my wildest dreams. I experience the support of my fellow students and the faculty of the program in a way that is as healing as the practices. I pray we can move this way of being in the world into a wider circle of healing.” C. A., Navajoland

“The program was a wonderful combination of head-learning and experiential heart-learning. I would highly recommend this program to anyone who is desiring to connect their concern for the environment with their faith, and share that connection with others.” J. S., Colorado

“I try to protect shore birds that lay eggs on beaches precisely where oblivious humans drive four wheel pickups. My Nature Contemplation practice has filled my soul with a healing peace that sustains me in my shore bird ministry.” D. G., North Carolina