Wilderness as the Forgotten Place of Spirituality

The idea of wilderness as a place of deep spirituality is not new at all.  If we delve into Old and New Testament roots of spirituality in the wilderness, we see that many – if not all – of the major figures in the Bible sought quiet time in the wilderness to confront, deepen, or connect with their own spirituality.

What changed?  Spirituality – as part of the religious life – became institutionalized.  As Christianity became legal in the Roman Empire, it moved into closed spaces and became subject to rules, presided over by priests and organized into a formal religion.  For Western European and American Christians, spirituality became a boxed-in, regulated practice virtually divorced from its early connection with the wilderness.  Even in the late twentieth century, prayer was generally something you did in the church building or at the dinner table or before you tucked yourself or your children into bed.  For most Christians, the rich tradition of spirituality in the wilderness was forgotten.

But life changed around the turn of the twentieth century.  Cities and villages had always existed, but in the mid-twentieth century, people in Western Europe and the Americas began a long and civilization-changing migration from farm to town.  They began working in office buildings and living in apartment buildings, suburban home developments, and other medium to high density venues.  The farm was left behind, and so was almost all connection to the natural world.  The “outdoors,” for most people, became a city park or a back yard.  If you want to connect with the natural world, you have to make an effort.

The connection between the wilderness and spirituality has never been more needed or well-suited for humans than any time since the ancient world. As church participation and attendance continues to plummet, we might appreciate that time in the wilderness is a time-honored spiritual practice. If a majority of Americans do not darken the doors of churches any longer, it may because they have chosen quiet, soul-nourishing spiritual experiences that are just as much a part of Christianity as a structured liturgy led in a boxed-in building.

This blog post is an excerpt from Considering Birds & Lilies: Finding Peace & Harmony With the Everyday World Around Us by Cynthia Coe, available in both e-book and paperback editions at Amazon.com.

Crafting with Kids, Crafting in Nature

As we look toward a more environmentally friendly and sustainable world, one area where teachers, children’s ministry leaders, and youth leaders can both make a difference and set an example for younger generations is their choice of materials for crafts. Whether in the classroom, Sunday School room, or during summer camp, offering children and youth all-natural materials or objects found in nature for crafting activities can both help address “nature deficit disorder” and walk the walk of acting with good stewardship of earth’s resources.

Several excellent resources for crafting with nature have recently become available.  Thanks to their publishers, I’ve been able to read and review advance copies of these new books, and I’m delighted to report that they are all great resources for teachers and camp leaders.

Nature Art Workshop by Katie Brooks, Sarah Lorraine Edwards, Allison Hetzell, Mikko Sumulong. This gorgeous book has sharp photographs to inspire crafts using flowers, wood, shells, feathers, acorns, and other items found in nature. These projects show that natural elements found in a backyard or nearby park can be used to make pictures, candles, and other art projects.  A lovely book to have around the classroom for children and youth to get ideas for their projects. Available on Kindle September 18, also coming soon in print.

Nature Craft by Fiona Hayes. This nicely illustrated and photographed book offers lots of projects for smaller children.  Using natural elements (sticks, pine cones, feathers) along with purchased materials (felt, paper, googly eyes), this book includes instructions for making lots of forest critters and a couple of masks.  Instructions for making sheep and angels are particularly helpful for Sunday School teachers. This book would be good for teachers who want to use a few natural elements but also want to use more traditional crafting materials. Just published in hardcover.

Into Nature by Autumn Totten and Alexandra Frey. This book is an interactive journal for older children and teens to take into nature, serving as a guide, journal, and inspiration to explore nature in a meaningful way.  I loved that the book is not just for the “outdoorsy”types and meets kids where they are in terms of comfort level in wild or semi-wild settings. (There’s even a couple of exercises involving house plants for those squeamish amongst the bugs and dirt.) This journal includes a comprehensive set of exercises appealing to all the senses (e.g. exploring how it feels to put your bare feet in mud), leading young people to truly immerse themselves in nature. This book would be a wonderful companion for young people attending summer camps.  It emphasizes mindfulness and would be fully compatible with church camp curricula. Just published in paperback.

Foraging with Kids by Adele Nozedar. For a more “foody” twist on crafting in nature, this book is for you. This book leads you through the woods to explore what is edible, with simple recipes included. For children and youth who are not into making crafts, foraging for food in nature provides a bit more daring alternative. For youth leaders who regularly take kids on hikes, this book provides a great resource identifying plants and exploring what you can do with them.  This book is written for a primarily British audience, but much of it is applicable to the forests of North America. Available on Kindle and in hardcover September 18, available for pre-order now.

Cynthia Coe is the author of Wild Faith: A Creation Care Curriculum for Youthand Earth Our Garden Home: Creation Care Lessons for Childrenand served as an Environmental Stewardship Fellow of The Episcopal Church.