Spirituality in Nature

Beth Norcross heads the Spirituality in Nature organization and says it is a labor of love. She loves walking through Lacy Park near her home.

The winter solstice has just passed as I write this. December 21st, the official launch of winter, marked the shortest day of the year. Slowly lengthening days are welcome news for gardeners.

The soltice is also an intense reminder of the close connection of nature and our spiritual and emotional well-being.  As the founder and Executive Director of The Center for Spirituality in Nature, Beth Norcross, says, “each season has a unique feel, rhythm, and purpose in the natural world.  When we mindfully sync our own cadence to match, we can connect with new awareness and insight.”

From Capitol Hill and Coast to Coast

Capitol Hill can claim Beth Norcross as one of our own. She worked on Capitol Hill for the U.S. Senate National Parks and Forests Subcommittee. Beth also lived on the Hill near 12th and Walter Street SE.  She recalls the joys of her daughter hanging out at Lincoln Park. 

“I have very fond memories of my time on the Hill,” says Beth who now lives in Arlington near Lacy Woods Park. The park is 14-acres right off 1200 N George Mason Drive, and features nature trails, and a variety of trees that provide seasonal changes.  Beth says she truly appreciates having this park so close to home. 

Beth has spent her career thinking about our environment and the natural world. After her career on the Hill,  she worked as Vice President for Conservation at the non-profit American Rivers.

“As I worked with many different people in conservation over the years, I realized there was more than an intellectual activity involved. It was something much deeper that brought folks together,” she says. So, she decided to return to school to study ecology and theology at Wesley Theological Seminar and hasn’t looked back. 

Lichens are easier to spot in the winter on downed logs on the side of the trail.

She has been involved in many efforts by the Methodist and Episcopal churches to introduce the concept of deepening spirituality through nature. “I started the Center to provide opportunities for people to participate in nurturing their relationships with the earth,” says Beth.  Membership in the Center is free and currently numbers over 2,000 members. In addition, there are thousands of other people who have used the different guides and publications that the Center shares online and for purchase.   

During the recent winter solstice, Beth led a sold-out group hike from Fletcher’s boathouse in DC, while another Center leader led a similar hike in Los Angeles. 

There was also a self-guided publication available to help those not able to attend these events to do their own hike.  Beth says she describes the reach of her group honoring natural sacred spaces —“we stretch from Manhattan to Missoula, Montana.”

Garfield Park’s trees were pruned this fall, and with the autumn light the trees created wonderful shadows along the sidewalks.

SING, Spirituality in Nature Groups

There are many ways to learn more about the connection of spirit and nature. For those who like to be part of a community, there are currently 20 to 25 groups you can join. A complete list is available on the Center’s website, https://www.centerforspiritualityinnature.org/.  Beth says each group is different because it reflects the interests of those attending.  The meetings —some weekly, others more occasional, usually involve being out in nature.  They may be a vigorous hiking group or a simple walk in a local park. One of the 2023 goals is to increase the number of SING groups across the country, and Beth says there are more to be added in the DC area.  Also, on the website is a step-by-step guide on how to start a group.

A 2019 study showed that just two hours a week in the outdoors has a significant positive impact on a person’s physical and mental health. “It is slowing yourself down to be more mindful of what is around you that helps you reground yourself and begin a relationship with your sacred places,” Beth says. “We are in challenging times and to recharge and renew ourselves, we need to return to the earth around us.” 

Gardeners already know this. In fact, research published in the journal Preventative Medicine Reports, found that gardening has a wide range of health outcomes including “reductions in depression, anxiety, and body mass index, as well as increases in life satisfaction, quality of life, and sense of community.”  Beth notes that there are references in theological studies to nature and being part of the earth in all religions.

A rendering of the proposed Amidon-Bowen Childhood Development Center. Courtesy DC Public Schools.

“I am often asked if the Center is a Christian or interfaith group. I like to say we are an ultra-faith organization, because caring for the earth is in all religions and spiritual writings.”

Your Opportunities to Explore 

Climate change is already having a profound impact on our planet and our lives. We are seeing warmer temperatures into November and December, heavier rains in the spring, and shifting migration patterns of birds. It can seem a bit overwhelming. Just being in nature and being more attentive to our own space is a start. 

The Center for Spirituality in Nature is a fabulous resource that provides films, books, and blogs to read.  There are so many ways you can engage—nature journaling, attending educational programs, joining, or starting your own SING group. And, of course, using these dark days to plan your 2023 garden will help prepare for brighter days ahead. This New Year let’s resolve to do all we can to reground ourselves and heal our planet.

You don’t have to travel far to find mini forests. Arlington County, like Washington DC, has done a good job providing natural areas within Walking distance of most residents.

Rindy O’Brien appreciates the Monday message from the Center and hopes others will join.  For comments, rindyobrien@gmail.com