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Genesis offers free virtual programs to activate hope, healing

WESTFIELD-A unique virtual offering is planned April 18 to help area residents move from a sense of overwhelm and immobilization regarding the climate crisis and the pandemic, to a hopeful perspective with practical action steps.

The program, “Active Hope: The Spiritual Journey of Facing Climate Change – and Pandemic,” will be observed virtually from 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Participants will be able to access the program through Zoom, a free app that can be downloaded to any device connected to the internet.

A freewill offering after the program can be sent to the Genesis Spiritual Life & Conference Center, 53 Mill St., Westfield, MA, 01085-4253, or through PayPal on the Genesis’ website,

“The challenges of the environmental and social disruptions of climate change are hard enough,” said Liz Walz, ASP, executive director of Genesis. “Now we are in the midst of an unprecedented (in our time) pandemic. How do we find our way through?”

Walz explained the workshop offers an emotional and spiritual path that enables us to transform fear and despair into a sense of empowerment and clear action.

Liz Walz, executive director at the Genesis Spiritual Life & Conference Center in Westfield, top row center, leads a recent Zoom session with persons offering free virtual programs. Top row, Carol Villagio, spiritual director from Connecticut, co-leads meditation; Walz; Jo Ann Bourquard, spiritual director at Genesis, co-leads meditation; center row, Verne McArthur, will co-lead an “Active Hope” program on April 18; Jane Comerford, SSJ, spiritual director from Latham, N.Y., in residence and on staff at Genesis, co-leads meditation; Sr. Betty Oleksak, Genesis Foundress and spiritual director, co-leads meditation, and at bottom, Megan Elliott leads a free chair yoga program. (LIZ WALZ PHOTO)

“Our feelings of pain and grief and fear are not meant to be borne alone,” said Walz. “There is no more important time than right now to come together to support and renew in community.”

Verne McArthur, a retired college teacher, as well as activist, workshop leader, singer and song leader, will lead the program, along with Dan Kivel, an educator, naturalist and musician.

McArthur has taught adult students for more than 30 years, specializing in critical thinking and sustainable community development, while Kivel has worked as an environmental educator and Jewish spiritual educator for more than 10 years and also teaches mindfulness meditation.

“These challenges offer openings for profound spiritual community growth which can help heal ourselves and the world,” said Walz. “We use the approach of Joanna Macy – over 50 years in the making – called The Work That Reconnects, to face the difficult feelings of the present moment and to build the spiritual strength to participate in the healing of the world.”

Walz noted that through the facilitators, McArthur in his 70s and Kivel in his 30s, participants will be able to take advantage of an “intergenerational look” at this time of profound change.

“This will be an interactive workshop, including small-group sharing, with opportunities to connect with the natural world in your own surroundings,” said Walz, adding, “whether that be through a yard, a porch, or simply an open window.”

On a related note, Walz is being joined by several spiritual directors to lead free meditation programs seven days a week at 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Once again, participants can access the program through a Zoom link by registering on the Genesis website.

Walz calls the program “Heart-Centered Meditation: Soul Connection in a Time of Social Distancing” which runs approximately 35 minutes with optional sharing afterwards.

“In this time of pandemic and social isolation, I knew many people were feeling disoriented, anxious, sad, scared and even angry,” said Walz. “And, I was confident that spiritual practice and sharing with others would help transform people’s experience of their situation – and it has.”

Walz added that one’s ability to meet with people as we have been accustomed to doing has been “radically altered” and she understands that meaningful connection with others facilitates “hope and healing.”

“Even after the social distancing guidelines are lifted, taking time in silence, being with the reality of one’s experience, and sharing with others are habits that support us in aging, any situation of uncertainty, as well as give us a deeper experience of the joys in our lives,” said Walz.

Additionally, Megan Elliott, E-RYT, is offering a free virtual Chair Yoga program on Tuesdays and Fridays at 10 a.m. for approximately 45 minutes. Participants can also register through the Genesis website to receive a link for the program on Zoom.

“Megan views yoga as a lifestyle, a living practice that unfolds as we unfold, and believes its teachings are a vehicle that can guide us closer to the fullest expression of ourselves,” said Walz.

Walz said that for many, social isolation can result in less movement.

“Chair Yoga is accessible to a wide range of people, regardless of mobility,” said Walz. “Because the pandemic and stay-at-home orders have been disorienting and financially stressful, Genesis is offering these programs free of charge, to remove as many barriers as possible to participation.”

Walz is hopeful that many area residents will take advantage of these programs.

“To cultivate hope and healing during social distancing, we all need to find ways to move our bodies, connect with others, and enjoy a moment of fun whenever we can,” said Walz. “Taking these steps strengthens our own resilience and ability to cope with the inevitable sadness of losing friends or family members, and the stress of losing our pre-C-19 rhythm of life.”

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