• Voices for Agrarian Life

Wired to be Outside by Rev. Charles Mackley

Originating in Japan, the practice of Shinrin-Yoku, translated “forest bathing”, is designed to foster health of body, mind and soul. The practice of forest bathing is as simple as being placed in the great out-of-doors, in a green place, soaking in the sights, smells and sound of God’s good creation. This not-so-new idea can be linked to our history that took place in another outdoor paradise.

In Genesis, Chapter 2, we read, “Then the Lord God planted a garden in Eden in the east, and there he placed the man he had made. The Lord God made all sorts of trees grow up from the ground. The trees were beautiful and produced delicious fruit. In the middle of the garden he placed the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A river watered the garden…. The Lord placed the man in the Garden of Eden to tend and watch over it…” And then woman was likewise created to be a partner in the enjoyment of the green trees and plants of that lush, fruitful garden.

How often did Jesus of Nazareth use creation as a springboard for understanding the goodness and provision of the One God he called Father. Some of the phrases recorded state, “Look at the birds of the air”, “Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow”, “Look at the fig tree”, “Look at the fields ready for harvest”. Jesus was steeped in this world that God had made. He was inspired by it, learned from it, found rest and respite in it.

Amongst the many titles written in the well-known magazine, THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, one specifically caught my attention. It stated, “WE ARE WIRED TO BE OUTSIDE”. Results of a study tell us that Americans spend about 90 percent of their time indoors and roughly 5 percent enclosed in a motor vehicle. That leaves a small 5 percent of a person’s time left over for outdoor activities. So what gets lost when humans keep themselves distanced from God’s creation? Scientific evidence increasingly tells us that it is human well-being that is sacrificed.

For example:

  • Do you want to energize your brain at the top of the morning? Evidence points to the importance of spending at least twenty minutes in the open air and is just as effective in boosting brain power as a cup of coffee, if not more.

  • Surgery patients found they were less stressed and experienced reduced levels of pain when exposed to sunlight.

  • Scientists believe that breathing in certain varieties of airborne chemicals, created by plants, spur more production of white blood cells, which in turn boost our immunity to disease and resistance to infection.

  • Studies show that being outdoors significantly reduces the stresses of social pressure and anxiety that weaken human bodies with high-blood pressure, rapid heart rate, high cholesterol, muscle tension and compromised immunity.

  • On a personal note, my best thinking and reflecting happen when I’m walking the C and O Canal or sitting under the shade trees at my favorite picnic area.

In a culture where mental health and anxiety disorders are degrading and damaging entire families and communities, there are more than a few voices demanding that something be done. Surely the remedies are complex and many faceted. But perhaps one relatively easy place to start would be to take ourselves out into the sights, sounds and smells of God’s green pastures, still waters and great forests.

Creation was made for us and for our well-being. It is my conviction that human health is diminished when we lose connection with the outdoor world that God has designated as our shelter and sanctuary. We were made to thrive in God’s natural world. We were meant to be in beautiful spaces such as those in which our Maryland forests, rivers, beaches, byways are firmly rooted. Look around, what are those special places left for us to enjoy in their natural state? They are bountiful throughout our grand world!

Outdoors is where I want to go when seeking to restore my soul, focus on my thoughts and communicate with the Lord. That is, I believe, how God intended it to be when he created our world and beheld its goodness. Walking upon soil or through the shade of a forest canopy is where one can surely experience the awe, mystery and grace of our Creator and the created. Here we can enjoy its benefits for the good of all mankind. After all, “WE ARE WIRED TO BE OUTSIDE!”

Reverend Charles M. Mackley received a Master of Divinity degree in 1984 from Lancaster Theological Seminary, in Lancaster, PA. Since then he’s served as pastor to a small congregation in a rural area near Frederick, MD, and as Associate Pastor of a large, urban congregation in Bethlehem, PA. Since taking over the pulpit at St. John’s in early 2001, he’s made his home in Washington County with wife, Melissa, and two children, Elizabeth and Christopher. When not doing ministry or shuttling two active teenagers from one activity or another, he enjoys reading for pleasure, not to mention hiking, biking, and running on either one of several trails that grace the Clear Spring area.

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