By now you have hopefully had time to explore the UCC’s Mission 4/1 Earth campaign, described by this week’s guest, Meighan Pritchard. While we frequently speak of our need to heal the Earth, we mustn’t overlook the many ways in which the Earth heals us. We need the Earth as much as the Earth needs us.

Journalist Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder and The Nature Principle, is widely known for his writings on the healing and restorative effects of nature. (Perhaps if you read his books, the time required could be entered as Mission 4/1 Earth care hours?) Louv coined the phrase “Nature Deficit Disorder” to describe an observed phenomenon that lack of time in nature is negatively impacting the health and wellness of both children and adults. Louv has stated, as Meighan Pritchard did this week during the episode, that in order to want to save and protect the Earth, we must feel connected with it. Meighan described feeling   deeply connected and “in relationship” with the Earth when kayaking near her family’s lake house in the early morning hours when the lake is pristine and still. In his books Louv describes many similar instances in which individuals feel connected, restored and rejuvenated when they experience nature, particularly in its most “wild” or unrestrained forms. Blogger Scott Frederickson’s writing of his boyhood experiences in the wilderness of the Minnesota woods echoes this same refrain.

But what will it mean for the future of our Earth and our species if fewer and fewer children are growing up exposed to “the wild”? Kids are spending more and more time indoors, engaged in technology, and less time outside in the wild. Interestingly enough, children may have more “knowledge” about nature than hands-on experience with nature itself. Louv states that kids today often know more about the Amazon Rain Forest than what’s growing and living in their own backyards. As communities, we aren’t exactly helping the situation. Recess time has been cut back in schools. Playgrounds are often well manicured and seldom include “natural” elements. Neighborhood subdivisions have covenants that outline the ways in which properties must be maintained, sometimes even prohibiting gardens, and in common areas like parks, kids are often forbidden from climbing the trees (one of my favorite childhood activities, even after falling from one and breaking my arm!). In my own subdivision, there is a lake and nearby ponds, but the kids are restricted from netting the bullfrogs that reside there (even when the intent is to release them), and it’s against the covenants to have a tent in the backyard overnight! (No Great American Backyard Campout for us, unfortunately.)

The Celtic Christians recognized God’s own wildness in the wildness of nature, and they didn’t try to restrain it or impose order upon it. They often worshipped outdoors in wild exposed spots. As J. Philip Newell writes, “A true worship of God, therefore, can neither be contained within the four walls of a sacred building nor restricted to the boundaries of religious tradition.” Isn’t that what we are really doing when we are outside in the wild? We are worshipping, connecting with our source, our creator. You’ve felt it, haven’t you? That overwhelming feeling of joy and connectedness that washes over you when you are in the midst of natural wilderness. If we can find a way to tap into that everyday and if we can share that with our children and encourage them to do the same, we will move closer and closer to healing our Earth and ourselves.

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