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Connie Bielecki

Nada Carmelite Hermitage

Interview Conducted by: Nick Chambers


Could you tell me about yourself in terms of your spiritual and religious background?

I grew up in Southern New England, In south eastern Connecticut and went to school in Boston and I worked in medical research for about 5 years and then I knew people that were in our community, the community I now belong to, at the time we also had a place in Nova Scotia in Canada and I went up there for retreat and spent time going on retreat quite a bit and just felt myself being drawn to more of a life of prayer and so after making several retreats I decided to join the community when I was 28 and at that point I spent my first couple of years in nova scotia and then we were just coming to Colorado in the early 80,s `982 83 and so I came here to crestone in19 83 when we were starting to build our hermitage here. At that time there was very little around and the of course more and m ore groups have come in, in the early eighties there was Linda’s farm which is not here anymore but its the place where the zen center is now and ah let’s see…….one of the original Buddhist group was here but that was about it and then us and then” as time went by more and more groups came which was I think was wonderful because the fact that having a place where different religions can live together just on a normal day to day basis is such a wonderful thing and I think we enhance each other’s spiritualities very much by sharing our own paths even though theyre different there’s a lot we can learn from one another and I personally have learned a great deal from the other people that I’ve come to know” (1) and the other groups here my own spirituality “the spirituality of my community is catholic and Carmelite based which is a spirituality of st john the cross and St. Teresa of Avila and its focused on solitude and prayer and that’s our main mission and our main apostolate but we also have a retreat center because we believe everyone needs time away space to be alone to pray to meditate to whatever and so we have a retreat center where people can come spend time in quiet and hike in the mountains, be outdoors and those kind of things as well because part of our emphasis too is very we cell it Christian humanism it’s very holistic, that we want to develop the gifts that god has given us on every level” (2) you don’t just separate your spirituality from your physical life your relationships and things like that its all a piece and that’s what we try to encourage and I think partly just that makes me think of the gas drilling obviously “anything that would disturb our quiet is going to be very difficult for us and for the retreatants who come to spend time here specifically for the quiet and the solitude so many of the other groups here have a very similar kind of mission and they do we all value the wilderness and the quiet and basically trying to disturb things as little as possible and obviously the drilling is going to be massively not only massively disrupting but on an ecological its very scary” (13) and that’s part of what is our big concern too because of what could happen to the water table, the aquifer that’s under the San Luis valley is probably a very important source of water and part of what goes through the water that goes through this valley is not only here but goes into New Mexico and into Mexico so is any pollution is done to the water its not only going to affect us but down the line, down the line the Rio Grande. What we’ve heard too is that the percentage of possibility of finding natural gas seems pretty low, well it’s al little we don’t know we

I‘ve heard various things, I mean on the one hand well they say there’s not a whole lot of possibility well then it makes you wonder why are they doing it because if they didn’t think there was a good possibility of finding something then why would they spend the money to do the test wells. And what we’ve been trying to do as a community here in

Crestone, the whole Crestone community everybody together doing in the Crestone community is to ensure that the company does a proper Environmental assessment and environmental impact study and it would be clear what the ramifications are and what the possible problems could be so we are very eager to have that happen.” Our community is part of what’s called the CSA which is kind of a banding together of the different religious and spiritual communities in the area so that we can work together and everybody has their own voice but if we speak together I think that has a stronger impact that if we were trying tried to speak alone so that’s what we’re trying to do is work together” (3) and “that’s also one of the beauties of all of us being here together again we may be following different paths but we have common goals and common values and that’s what brings us together and why we can you know stand with one another and try to work with the Lexam people and see what can be done” (4) about well of course we’d like not to have nothing done at all but if something has to be done then all the proper precautions that can be made in order to protect the people the land the wildlife on that level. That’s kind of a nutshell I don’t know how much you want from me if you have any other questions.


Right now there are federal provisions for protection against negative cultural impacts but there are mostly confined to Native American practices. How do you feel about this, especially in relation to the situation that your community faces?

Well I certainly believe that that needs to be protected is that the interesting thing is in native American from what I know “from what I understand of native culture this valley was actually a very sacred place for many different tribes it was called the peaceful valley which it was kind of a place where the tribes would come through to hike and fish and there would be no disagreements or wars they did not fight in the valley or anything like that and Blanca is considered one of the sacred mountains, so it is a sacred area the whole valley is but I mean the whole world is sacred.” (4) “And you know what that’s one of the whole things about our culture today is that if we well we have so many people especially in government have lost sight of that what seems to be most important is expediency rather than any kind of sacredness or what’s wellbeing of people and the land and the wildlife that’s way down the line in terms of concern and so what needs to happen is a much deeper understanding of that and how well connected we are” (5)…that’s another thing …”what damage gets done here doesn’t only affect the valley it affects other places those kind of things have terrible ramifications” (6) I would like to see not only the kind of line drawn for the native people but it should be in our mindsets for everything


You said the whole world is sacred? What’s set apart as sacred

“Well I mean again everything is sacred because god created it so this s, it isn’t just the either, it’s the whole universe because god and this is from the standpoint of my belief system because god created everything and therefore it is sacred and everything it is good and it needs to be reverenced” (7)… “I think reverenced is a virtue that we have somewhat lost in the age we live in, it tends to be somewhat of a cynical age and if we have lost a sense of reverence for the land the creatures the people for what we do then obviously people can rape and pillage basically and think there is nothing wrong with that and that it has to do with progress and things like that which is not what it is” (8)…that’s kind of a rationalization…


Are there any common misconceptions about your practice?

Probably I mean a lot of people who are brought up Christian and especially catholic who have had bad experience would probably question if it’s a worthwhile thing although one of the things that’s been such a wonderful thing is that we’re not like communities or religious people that many people experience growing up in their teenage years and young adulthood and so we’ve actually been an instument to help them make peace with their past and they’ve come to our chapel and our services and realize that’s we’re not the way that they experiences Catholicism and Christian in their youth and that its given them a whole new perspective on it I think there are a lot of people who have probably out of ignorance or different bad experiences and so I’m very glad we can offer something different to people, a different perspective


Why do you think you chose the path you did?

People ask me that question and I find it really hard to answer…I think the only way I could describe it is that I wasn’t unhappy in what I was doing I had a good job I had good friends I had a good time but I knew there was something missing and “I think you know its different for different people for myself I was always as a child I loved being outside I enjoyed being alone I didn’t have to be with people I didn’t have to be doing things I just liked to go wandering in the meadow and sit and watch birds as well I enjoyed playing with others as well but I think there was something in my personality and temperament that lead me to a more contemplative orientation and so that was a part of me from a very early age and I think it just increased the more I sort of got out in the world so to speak and in the world of working and socializing and things like that I realized that wasn’t everything. So I think that’s…I just kept feeling that there was something more for me I mean I don’t think everybody has to do the same thing but for me personally I just knew I had to keep pursuing this” (9) so I found something. I mean ive been in the community 30 years and I still feel that way its still an adventure its still a mystery its still a journey that I’m on and will be until I pass on to another level of existence


Do these reasons vary significantly amongst other practitioners of the Carmelite Spirituality?

I don’t know I think its very individual, I would suspect that the common denominator would be that to something you feel inside drawing you towards this, something that wanting to give your life to god and that can be done in so different many ways for instance like your high school so the xeaverians were teachers to be able to serve god by serving other people or mother teresa’s community where theyre taking care of the poor “depending on your temperament and personality you would be drawn to different things and some people …people who would be drawn to Carmelite spirituality would tend to be people who have a desire for prayer” (10) and that’s one of the things to go back to your question about misconceptions…”a lot of people in the modern world wouldn’t believe that our primary purpose in a sense is prayer…we pray for the world I think a lot of people if they don’t have some deep rooting in some kind of spirituality then you say that’s a waste of time that doesn’t do any good you gotta get out there and do something. Anyone who would believe in the power of prayer I think would be drawn to Carmelite spirituality” (11)


How did you first hear about Crestone?

The leaders of the community knew brother David Spendelddraft who was part of the lunastar community and he mentioned that at the time it wasn’t the Manitou foundation at the time, but it was the predecessor to the Manitou foundation which was still hanne and Maurice strong had this vision of a community of global religions all living together in one place and he put us in touch with them and then we went back in forth with conversations and visits and all that and the upshot was that they invited us to start a retreat center here. So that’s how we came to be here


Was the Retreat center in Nova Scotia in a similar setting?

Not geographically, it was very different. There we lived on a lake in log cabins but the property we had originally been a hunting and fishing lodge so there were just log cabins all around but we lived the same way we live her…people came on retreats and we lived the same way its just the difference is because of the geography of it otherwise its basically the same


Do the different landscapes have different significances for spirituality?

Yes I do very much so, because living in a place like nova scotia as opposed to here if very different and it was in the woods as well so there was a kind of encircling, nurturing protective atmosphere and even just the climate too because it was often grey or foggy, that kind of thing where you feel kind of somewhat enveloped whereas “here in Crestone it’s the desert and the mountains so I would say the spirituality there was more of a feminine spirituality and here in crestone its more of a masculine spirituality its more sparse and spare.. I think challenging on a different kind of level, no matter what your spirituality is challenging but there’s a physical challenge here that I didn’t find in Nova Scotia even though we lived a very simple life that was hard, but there’s something about the mountains, the kind of energy that you feel from the mountains that’s a different kind of challenge and I think geography really affects a person’s spirituality” (12)


How would you characterize not just your community the relationship of the entire CSA to one another?

“I would describe it as …what’s coming to my mind is a kind of brotherly sisterly thing and I think that’s good well partly because even in families most of us experience that you may be of the same blood, but you’re very different and yet there’s something that binds you because you are part of the same family and I think there’s something here in Crestone that’s similar to that where we are bound together by our even though our spiritualities are different its because that’s the basis of all of our lives whatever our paths may be and so that’s kind of the binding force is that all the value systems are very similar and that keeps us in a kind of communication even when we have differences, different approaches to whatever I mean not even all the groups would consider themselves a deist group, Buddhists are not really deists, Buddhism is not really a religion anyway, but the principles on which we base our lives are so similar that’s what I think binds us together” (14)


Rabbi David Cooper was quoted in U.S News and World Report calling Crestone a place that is in “postreligion”,

That’s an interesting thing, interesting because I think the major groups who are here are all very firmly established in a particular tradition so in a sense it’s still “religious” “but I think that’s also the beauty of this place that there’s such an openness and sharing among us that there are certain edges that soften” (15), it’s not that…” I know I’m not a Buddhist I am very much of a Christian, but like I said earlier I’ve learned so much from the people that I know here and their different spiritualities so I don’t know if I would call it postreligious because I think it needs a whole other term, but I don’t know what to say but I understand and I kind of agree with what he’s saying it’s something new something different, but I wouldn’t know exactly what to call it” (16)


Do you think a place like Crestone holds a significance for the wider culture?

Yeah I do, partly because of the way we at least try to live together to honor one anothers differences and its also a small town with all the best and the worst of that so there’s also the experience of where everyone knows everybody else’s business…which is not a good thing, but then whenever anybody is in trouble anybody needs help the whole town rallies to help take care of them so as a microcosm I think there’s something here that could teach the world on an obviously… trying to take something from a small situation into a global situation doesn’t always work,” but I would say for one thing tolerance is one of the great gifts of this place and the world could certainly learn from that and as well as again as I mentioned earlier that sense of reverence for the wilderness and everything that’s around us which is… akin to native American spirituality but in a western European sense…which is still something that has been lost…the more the world at large could develop that would be a great gift, because then we wouldn’t be destroying one another and the earth the way we are on such a global scale” (17)