Connecting with God in the Natural World: Spirituality, Nature, and Accessibility
I have always loved spending time outside, exploring nature, from picking berries in the bramble bushes along the stream at the neighborhood park to camping in various state parks all over Texas with my family when I was growing up. Being able to connect with the Sacred in the natural world is an important aspect of my faith. I have always felt closer to God listening to birdsong at sunrise or watching a meteor shower in a remote field than I ever have in a church building. The Bible is full of passages about the beauty and agency of creation, and so retaining this connection to nature even amid a disability is crucial for me. When I first began to experience mobility problems because of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (an inherited connective tissue disorder), I was determined not to let it get in the way of my outdoor adventures. I continued to hike on crutches, and when I had to transition to a wheelchair, I started researching accessible parks and wheelchair modifications. Thankfully, many others like me are also adventurous, and equipment is available to help people of all abilities enjoy the natural world. Facebook has been an excellent way to connect with other like-minded, resourceful people all over the world.
I was also heartened to learn that many state and national parks have dedicated accessible paths and other facilities, making it possible for wheelchair users to enjoy nature along with folks on foot. When I started Olentangy Wild Church last fall, I was determined to make it an accessible space for people of all abilities. We meet at local parks that have paved paths and nearby parking so that ability is not a barrier to connecting with God in nature.
Wild Church is a unique experience. We listen for God speaking to us in the voices of the birds, the trees, and the landscape itself—beyond the walls of the church building. We begin with some welcoming words, scripture, and a short reflection. Then folks are free to spend time in quiet reflection by themselves or in family groups walking in the woods, sitting in the sunshine, or enjoying the campfire. After this time of reflection, we come together for group reflection and a closing prayer. The worship experience is open to people of all ages and abilities.
Communications Coordinator, Central District Conference (Mennonite Church USA) Facilitator of Olentangy Wild Church in Columbus, Ohio
Columbus Mennonite Church
Sarah's forthcoming book, Rooted Faith: Practices for Living Well on a Fragile Planet (Herald Press, September 2023) explores how Christians can root our faith in the landscape around us to live out the gospel more faithfully, answering the call to foster the kin-dom of God on earth.