The next 31 days are a time of nature pilgrimage for me. I am a Methodist preacher in the Virginia Conference. I have been a pastor for 20 years and at my present appointment, Silverbrook United Methodist Church and Retreat Center for six years and so it was time to take a sabbatical for renewal of my spirit and my ministry. I chose to do a Creation/Creator focus for my time away.
Nature has always been an important part of my life. My Dad was a gentleman farmer, having a calf, a pig, some chickens, some rabbits etc. at various times in my growing up years. He was also an amateur naturalist, taking us out for hikes, berrying, birding, canoeing and other outdoor type activities often. I remember sitting out in the snow on a chair with a cookie sheet full of bird seed sitting on my lap and sitting very still as I waited for the birds to swoop down and take the seeds. I remember feeding raccoons cookies from the front porch (I know it’s frowned upon now but it was an introduction to nature that sticks in my brain and shaped my love for nature so…)
When I went off to college at Ohio Wesleyan University I majored in Botany and minored in Zoology. It was a great experience. I loved every minute of it. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do when I graduated but thought nature would be the focus of my employment. I did an internship at the USDA labs in Delaware, working with pine pollen and acid rain and the effect of ozone on tree growth. It was fascinating to me. I loved the field trips. After college I did a summer internship at the Smithsonian Institutes Museum of Natural History in their Botany department and the following spring got a job there as a museum technician with the inventory. I loved working there. I found a permanent job in the fishes department but somehow I knew there was something more for me.
As I explored the possibilities for my future I realized that I also loved being in church and working there. I had served as a lay person all my life – teaching Sunday School since the age of 12, helping to lead worship, singing in the choir, etc…God had always been an important part of my life and I often drew closer to the presence of God while I was in a nature setting: canoeing the river, hiking through the woods or picking elder berries for jam. When I was down and needed a lift I sought time out in nature and there connected with the Holy One and was restored. When I decided to go to seminary to pursue the calling to serve God in the church as a pastor I often told people I had moved from the Creation to the Creator. It wasn’t as big a move to me as it seemed to some; once you have looked down at the electron microscope view of some of the creation one can’t help but know there is something greater than us that created all of this wonder.
And now I have lived in Northern Virginia for the past 17 years. There is lots of nature here but I don’t often take time out to find it; this has left my spirit wanting. So now I want to focus on nature for the next 31 days of my mini-sabbatical. I began this journey June 26th when I took my last few vacation days at Yellowstone National Park. I will be here until July 6th and then explore nature back home. Please join me in this journey. I hope your spirit will be refreshed and renewed and that you too will draw closer to the Holy One through my reflections and that maybe you will be inspired to set aside some time in your busy life to ‘get back to nature’ and create your own space for getting closer to God.
With love and prayers for you and for all of God’s creation,
Kimberly A. Barker-Brugman