Nature, Faith and Health
We all know that spending time in nature is good for the soul. But did you know that scientists are beginning to document that is it good for our bodies, brains and emotions, as well as the whole community?
Recent scientific studies suggest that spending time in nature is really good for us. When we connect with nature, our breathing changes, we shed stress, we feel more focused. It helps us be more physically active, but it also does something to our bodies at the cellular level. Being in nature has been shown to help with depression, lower blood pressure and regulate cortisol, a stress hormone that affects our blood sugar levels, immune system, and blood flow.
The benefits of nature to our health are so profound that doctors are staring to write prescriptions for time in nature. Check out this story from NBC News with more details about how one family benefited from 30 minute walks in the park.
The natural environment is also tied to the well-being of our communities. According to a research team from Portland State University, tree cover in urban areas is one of the most visible indicators of neighborhood income, and vegetation density is directly tied to health outcomes, especially for the vulnerable group, such as kids, the elderly, and people living below the poverty line.
All faith traditions recognize the power of nature to touch our spirits and foster our sense of wholeness. Symbols and metaphors from nature are in all scriptures. Somehow, when we slow down and connect with the natural world, we feel God’s presence more keenly and better understand who God is.
On this page you will find ideas and resources to help your faith community connect with nature.
The Forest Preserves of Cook County (FPCC) are a fabulous resource in our backyard! They are more than just a place to have a picnic. The Forest Preserve protects over 69,000 acres of green space in 22 dedicated nature preserves scattered throughout Chicagoland. These include woodlands, tallgrass prairies and wetlands; waterways available for canoeing, kayaking and bird watching; 300 miles of trails and, for the first time ever, camping facilities and gear available for the public at very affordable rates. There are also 6 nature centers and tons of environmental education programming available. The Forest Preserves are incredible, yet underutilized, assets in our community for people of all ages – and both science and faith show us we need more of it!
Here are just a few of the programs that they offer that would be great for faith communities:
- Camping 101 is a free hands-on workshop designed to teach anyone basic camping skills.
- Family Campouts: Starting at 3 pm and ending at noon the next day, camp outs include staff-led instruction in tent and equipment set-up, campfire building and camp cooking. Programs may also include night hikes, storytelling, animal encounters, nature play, archery or paddling.
- The Camping Leadership Immersion Course (CLIC) connects organized groups to camping in the forest preserves. Based at Camp Sullivan in Oak Forest, CLIC is offered to leaders of groups up to 30. An overnight training course includes instruction in leadership skills, camp equipment use and care, and group activities related to outdoor recreation and nature-based education. Once leaders are CLIC certified, they can bring their large groups for camping trips and will be able to use equipment for a campout at Camp Sullivan with their group.
- Self-guided trips through a nature center with an introduction by a naturalist. You plan your own agenda, a naturalist will give a 15 minute introduction to the center and seasonal highlights.
- Subject-specific programs with a naturalist may be arranged to suit your group’s needs and each center’s unique features. Programs typically last from 45 minutes to an hour.
- Service learning combines an education component with an ecological service project.
The opportunity for faith leaders to minister to their congregation through and in nature is at your fingertips in the metropolitan Chicago area. Elder trips featuring devotionals and meditations can help process the seasons of life. A day retreat could reinvigorate a staff strategy meeting. Youth may find enjoyment in nature for their first time ever during a youth camp overnight outing. The potential is endless and the destination is convenient.
Find information here about all the free and low-cost programs they offer that faith communities can take advantage of.
Not in Cook County?
The Lake County Forest Preserves and Forest Preserve District of DuPage County also have beautiful land and facilities, educational programming, and opportunities to get away into nature and are eager to work with faith communities.
The Connecting Nature Faith and Health guide is a tool for individuals and groups to connect spirituality with nature. You can use it for individual reflection as you spend time outdoors or you can use with a group from your house of worship or community. It intentionally draws from the scriptures and practices of all faiths and offers an opportunity for us to be enriched by the wisdom of other spiritual traditions.
This booklet includes 5 units on broad concepts:
• Water: The Source of Life
• Interconnectedness: The Web of Life
• Seasons: The Cycle of Life
• Migration: The Course of Life
• Vastness: The Wonder of Life
Each unit includes an introduction, suggested sacred texts or readings, three reflection questions, a silent sensory awareness meditation, and suggested activities that can be used for individual practice or for groups.
This poster provides quick and interesting facts about how nature influences your spirit and your health. Use this poster in your bulletin, post it on an information board, or use it as a discussion starter for a youth group meeting.
Renewal in the Wilderness offers outdoor experiences that sustain your spirit so that you can continue to extend compassion to your community. Renewal was founded by a pastor who found a connection to God and his calling to ministry in nature. They provide canoeing, kayaking, hiking and other trips locally, in the Midwest, and around the country and world. They also provide “micro-adventures” to help people connect with nature where they are. The book, Renewal in the Wilderness, reveals the power of experiencing God’s presence in many variations of the natural world―from a backpacking trip in a truly remote wilderness to an afternoon spent in a nearby park to a single moment savored in your own backyard.
From October through June you can watch eagles in their nest in Decorah, Iowa through a live video-feed. This is an incredible way to connect with a wild animal in its own habitat.
Sign up your youth group or religious education classes for a live chat with eagle experts.
Click here for resources that you can use for religious education classes with kids of various ages.
Use this video as a conversation starter about what the wilderness means to us and how it connects us to awe, wonder, mystery and what is holy.