The Sheboygan Press (Sheboygan, Wisconsin)


"The Book of Nature"
Saron United Church of Christ plans outdoor retreat
by Jenny Bushnell of the Sheboygan Press Staff.


SHEBOYGAN FALLS - Across from a grove of trees, Saron United Church of Christ sits on a quiet country road. Out here, closer to nature, some people say, it's easier to feel a little closer to God.

They sense the Creator, they say, in the wild flowers growing in the ditch, in the corn plants marching in rows and in the white wisps of clouds drifting across the deep blue sky. And to use nature to learn more about God, church members are putting on a retreat next weekend called "Opening the Book of Nature: Learning the Spiritual Lessons in God's Creation." "If we truly want to learn about God, nature is right there before our eyes," explained Tom Herschelman, the facilitator of the church's Eco-Justice Task Force, which is sponsoring the retreat.

Looking at the beauty of the natural world, he said, helps him to appreciate God's power and wisdom and to give thanks to the God who created it-suspending judgment, for now, on whether the creating took six days or millions of years.

"To me, opening the book of nature is an outstanding opportunity for us to learn about God, appreciate God, love God," Herschelman said, "and in the process learn about ourselves and about our purpose on the planet. It's a way for us to get in a right relationship with God." "It teaches us the lessons of patience, humility," he added. "It teaches us to slow down."And studying the natural world also teaches people to protect it, Herschelman said.

"We are truly a blessed species and a blessed planet. We have all the right conditions for life," Herschelman said.

"We have an obligation to appreciate it and protect it. If we respect creation, we will honor our God." But this is not just environmentalism, said the Rev. Jennifer Dawson, Saron's co-pastor. She said respect for God's creation includes respect for humans, especially the poor. Contaminated waste, for example, is often buried in poor neighborhoods, she said. And if global warming causes the polar icecaps to melt, the rising ocean would flood the low-lying areas of India and Bangladesh, home to some of the world's poorest people."When the earth's purity is threatened, the poorest people are the ones who suffer most," Dawson said.

"Just caring about the poor would indicate that this is a crisis."She also said contemplating nature reminds people that they are one small part of a large world."You learn that you are not the center of the universe," Dawson said. "For Christians, it reminds us how much more wonderful it is that God cares foreach of us."


Program details

What: Retreat, "Opening the Book of Nature: Learning the Spiritual Lessons in God's Creation"

When: September 8-9, 2001

Where: Pilgrim Center on Green Lake, near Ripon, Wis.

Leader: Sara Laimon, from the California-based Opening the Book of Nature program, sponsored by the Religious Campaign for Forest Conservation

More information: Call Saron United Church of Christ, 467-6202


Historical quotes

Members of Saron United Church of Christ will sponsor a retreat Sept. 8-9about learning lessons from nature. But they say it's not a new concept; in fact, early Christians had an even deeper respect for the natural world.

"Any error about creation also leads to an error about God."

- St. Thomas Aquinas, 1225-1274

"God writes the Gospel, not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars."

- Martin Luther, 1483-1546

"It is the wisdom of men to search out God's works, and to set their minds wholly upon them. And God has also ordained the world to be like a theaterupon which to behold his goodness."

- John Calvin, 1509-1564

"Everything we see in nature is manifested truth; only we are not able to recognize it unless truth is manifest within ourselves..."

- Jacob Boehme, 1575-1624

"Reading about nature is fine, but if a person walks in the woods and listens carefully, he can learn more than what is in books, for they speak with the voice of God."

- George Washington Carver, 1864-1943"

"I want creation to penetrate you with so much admiration that wherever you go, the least plant may bring you a clear remembrance of the Creator ... One blade of grass or one speck of dust is enough to occupy your entire mind in beholding the art with which it has been made."

- St. Basil the Great, 329-379