Written and Interviewed By: Caela Collins
Creation Care Ministry Network: An Ode to Natural Healing
“Tumble out of bed
And stumble to the kitchen
Pour myself a cup of ambition
And yawn and stretch and try to come to life.
Jump in the shower
And the blood starts pumpin’
Out on the streets, the traffic starts jumpin’
For folks like me on the job from 9 to 5.”
Many of you know the lyrics above from Dolly Parton’s serotonin fueled morning tune, or what I like to call, the wake up anthem for weekday warriors, titled “9 to 5.” This song has been a big hit for obvious reasons: It’s just so darn catchy, irresistibly dance worthy, and its simply something that any and every person with an occupation can identify with. From the outside looking in, “9 to 5” was the perfect recipe for a morning workday theme song… well, kind of.
Sorry to all the Dolly fans, but this recipe tastes like it’s missing something; a key ingredient that we overlook too often, nature. How often do we appreciate the trees stretching along the highway ahead instead of focusing on the barrage of cars in line speeding ahead, stop to view the sunrise or sunset before we make the transition from home to transportation device, or even thank God for the fresh air that flows through our lungs and racing hearts as we rush to our workplace destination?
Most people don’t think of nature as part of their morning routine. I’m not here to tell you in a soft calming voice with Tibetan singing bowls looming in the background to ‘take your time and smell the flowers’ because much like the tone and pace of Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” it’s simply not realistic during a morning rush, when you’re fiddling with keys and just trying to make it out the door in time. However, I can encourage you to take a peek out your window for a quick moment of awe in the natural world that man had no hand in creating. I can suggest that as you drag each foot out from under your covers and place your heels on the floor to take a few seconds and realize that you dwell on sacred ground that God perfectly handcrafted for your soul as your soles scurry along to your morning regimen.
Even when you’re not thinking about it, God is providing something tangible for the good of your soul each day: Trees that convert the light from the sun into oxygen and solid earth that keeps you grounded metaphysically.
I’m not 100% sure if I would have done a double take at Dolly’s lyrics if I didn’t have a powerful conversation with Colleen Murphy-Dunning, Program Director, Hixon Center for Urban Ecology, Urban Resources Initiative (URI); Lecturer in Urban & Community Forestry, and most notably a presenter for the 10th Anniversary of Spring Training & Gathering 2023! She offered me a new lens of nature through healing, which was quite inspiring and refreshing.
Colleen’s experience in social forestry, the connection between communities and their forests by using trees and woodlands to deliver social benefits to all groups within a local society, began during her time in Kenya. The ideology behind social forestry is to empower people to manage the forest for their own unique needs, desires, and communities.
Now, working with the New Haven Urban Resources Initiative (URI), a nonprofit organization, Colleen aides locals in the exploration of how to carry out forestry within their community. URI takes college students out of the classroom and into the wild, creates meaningful job opportunities for teens which has expanded to formerly incarcerated adults, and builds a community with those who are marginalized.
We don’t often think of forestry when we think of cities but there is an unspoken responsibility we all have to care for the Creator’s creation. Nature is everywhere if you decide to focus your lens; there’s still sunshine, trees, photosynthesis, even with buildings surrounding us, and with that, a source of healing appears.
There’s healing in nature: physically, emotionally, mentally, holistically, and spiritually. Eco-Spiritualism at its core is the connection between human and the earthly plane that God has provided. For Colleen, listening is the cornerstone of the work she carries out, when it comes to social forestry, its a granular experience from neighborhood to neighborhood. Each community has autonomy over their local environment and craft it to their needs and desires. This was especially present in one of their projects, the Botanical Garden of Healing.
A mother requested that the local forestry space become a sacred and safe space where members of the community can come for healing. It was a way to actively plant hope for the future and build this world together where they take care of each other and nature.
A path was created with names and ages of those who were victims to gun violence to reveal that the fallen were not forgotten. Through the conception of this botanical garden, a meditative experience was born and the community was able to heal through nature.
Key Takeaway Points
Identify what’s important to you / your community, be a well of knowledge, and a good land steward by reclaiming green spaces to meet the needs of the locals.
|How can we listen and be inclusive in the way we think of stewards?|
|What planting could you do on your parish property?|
|“I believe that faith communities have an important role to play in loving their neighbors by managing their landscapes for the common good. I plan to support churches in environmental and justice work as an expression of the Gospel. I have planted trees around the city of New Haven with teams of high schoolers and ex- offenders with Urban Resources Initiative. With the GreenSpace program, working with community groups, we restored abandoned lots and parks into thriving green spaces.“|