by Nancy Barrett Chickerneo
Woodstock, VT: Skylight Paths Publishing, 2008.
Reviewed by Becky Kiser
“Prepare for your journey outside with comfortable clothes that are appropriate for the weather. Take your journal and whatever art supplies, pens and pencils you like. Get comfortable and allow yourself to spend some time becoming aware of your breath… then move into this meditative exercise…”
Each of this book’s chapters closes with this invitation, along with questions to ponder as we attend what Chickerneo lovingly calls “Nature School.”
Chickerneo is a therapist and artist who discovered a personal path of healing and wholeness in her interaction with the prairie where she lives, especially as she participated in prairie restoration. She and friends created what they call the SPA Sisters (an acronym for Spirit, Place and Authentic Self). They designed a program for sharing their discoveries with other women in retreats and ongoing groups over the last 20 years. Those experiences are described in the book, with readers invited to move through the essential steps of what is usually an overnight Awakening Retreat, followed by weeks together in Wellspring groups.
“When we intentionally go outside with an attitude of openness to what we might learn, and pay attention to what we are attracted to, nature can reflect back to us a wealth of information about who we are at our core.” (p.38) The process reminds me of the spiritual discipline Lectio Divina, in which we read a section of Scripture, fully expecting that same Scripture to read our heart and grab our attention through a word or phrase, then letting the Divine speak to our heart.
In the Nature School experiences, however, the Sacred is approached through creation. “It is one thing to know, intellectually, that the sacred is present in creation. It is another altogether to experience it in your heart, to feel it at the depth of your being.” (p.144) That this process affects people deeply is evidenced by the experiences of participants in the retreats and groups, which are shared throughout the chapters. The child-like wonder and delight in nature is recaptured, and the healing power of the Divine in nature comes through clearly in their words. Chickerneo refers to these times as finding those “metaphors-in-waiting,” and reflecting on them for self-discovery and understanding.
The book is set up in eight thematic chapters, and most of the pages have either a whimsical pencil drawing or an appropriate quote (or both) from people like Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Hildegard of Bingen, Thomas Merton, Wendell Berry, Thomas Berry, Kathleen Norris, May Sarton, and others.
I found myself drawn in various ways—reading the quotes for a while, reading the text for a while, listening to others’ stories, and wanting to go back through the book doing the exercises.
I recognized in Chickerneo’s book the way I’ve also learned that the earth speaks—and the way God calls me, centers me, and moves me. It’s always good to find out you’re not crazy, and that others have found language to explain how it works!
Now I think I’ll get my raincoat and go outside. Creation is waiting!
© 2009 Evangelical & Ecumenical Women’s Caucus volume 32 number 4 Winter (January-March) 2009