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The healing power of God's creation

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Many of us seek God in the natural world, whether we backpack in the mountains, walk through a forest or relax by a lake. The Rev. Beth Jones shares how the discipline of slowing down and noticing God's creation has the ability to heal us physically, emotionally, and spiritually, as well as repair and renew our relationships with one another, ourselves and God.

Guest: The Rev. Beth Jones

  • Jones is the director of Deep Green Journey and is a certified nature and forest therapy guide.
  • Jones, an ordained pastor in The United Methodist Church, leads Church on the Mountain, a congregation that meets monthly at Rider Park near Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

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This episode posted on May 5, 2023.

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Before today's “Get Your Spirit in Shape” episode, I'd like to tell you about “Safer Sanctuaries: Nurturing Trust within Faith Communities,” a new and comprehensive resource from the Upper Room and Discipleship Ministries that continues the tradition of Safe Sanctuaries ministry by building on its trusted policies and procedures. To learn more, go to or call 800-972-0433.


Many of us seek God in the natural world, whether we backpack in the mountains, walk through a forest or relax by a lake. The Rev. Beth Jones shares how the discipline of slowing down and noticing God's creation has the ability to heal us physically, emotionally, and spiritually, as well as repair and renew our relationships with one another, ourselves and God.


Crystal Caviness, host: Beth, welcome to “Get Your Spirit in Shape.”

Beth Jones: Thank you. It's so good to be here. I appreciate the opportunity.

Crystal: I'm so intrigued by your ministry. You are a certified nature and forest therapy guide in the Susquehanna Conference, which is in central Pennsylvania. Can you tell me more about that ministry and just about you in general?

Beth: Sure. Yeah. I grew up here in Pennsylvania, I’ve been a United Methodist pastor for over 20 years, and, you know, always been able to have access and enjoy the outdoors. You know, first through my folks and growing up, uh, we grew up camping and, and that sort of thing, but to always been intrigued with how people respond to the opportunity to be outdoors. And, uh, just, you know, my involvement through the church through over the years in Camping ministries, and I would lead backpack trips, saw this emerging and just had a growing interest in it. And a couple of years ago heard about this idea of forest therapy or forest bathing. It's known in some places as shinrin-yoku. And so I looked into it and took the training in 2017, which is pretty extensive.

It's like an eight day in-person, and then followed by a six-month practicum. And around that same time, my husband and I were kind of talking about next steps in ministry, and I had served in the local church. I had served as a district superintendent and thinking, you know, next steps after that, and approached our bishop and said,  I'd really like to start a ministry that seeks to connect people with the healing and the wholeness that can happen in, in nature. You know, both through their emotional healing, physical healing, but also the spiritual healing and wholeness that can take place in, in a variety of different settings. One of which certainly utilizes what I learned through nature and forest therapy. So it started, it's called Deep Green Journey. Started that in 2018 and have been, you know, so sort of growing that in different directions ever since.

Crystal: That's so interesting. What is it about the natural world, the forest and being outdoors that makes it a good healing experience?

Beth: Oh my gosh, there's so many different directions I can go with that. I would say, I mean, first and foremost, on a very practical level, studies have emerged over the last couple decades that have shown so clearly the connection between physical wellbeing and time spent in nature. So it literally reduces stress, brings our blood pressure down, boosts our immunity. We have seen these studies over and over again worldwide, and it's finally, you know, starting to catch on here in the United States how important it is for our bodies to spend that time in nature. So there is the physical healing aspect there, but also there's something about spending that time in nature and whether it be on, you know, a week long backpack trip or just sitting under a tree in your local park or in your backyard, that opens us up in a way that I don't think anything else can.

And what I mean by that is I think that there are places inside of us that are always in need of healing, no matter who we are. We carry anxiety, we carry stress, we carry grief, we carry anger. And I'm convinced that just being still in the natural world in and of itself can open up some of those places and have us safely recognize the healing that needs to take place. It's interesting. You talk to anybody and they say, yeah, you know, I just, I went for a walk and I just felt better or I, I just spent that time outside and I came back with just a better perspective. You know, you hear this over and over again, and there's a reason for that, that nature can open us up and help us see things from that new perspective. And inevitably, it, it leads us to a healing and a wholeness of whatever we're carrying, whatever load we're carrying.

Crystal: You talk about on your website of the Deep Green Journey that an important part of your work is to connect with individuals who are limited in their ability to assess the natural world. What do you mean by that? Who are those people?

Beth: So, oh my gosh. This is such a great question because it takes me, again, in a million different. By accessibility, again, going back to the healing question, it's physical accessibility and emotional accessibility. So beginning with the physical accessibility piece that’s always been important to me. A little over a year ago, I suffered a pretty severe accident while hiking and found that through my recovery from that, that I will have some lifelong limitations that will limit me and, you know, the amount of weight that I can carry, which can be problematic for a backpack guide.

So, you know, I've had to find some ways around that and, and thankfully have found some solutions to that. But it really opened my eyes to, you know, there are people that I think automatically are told or assume that they can't have access to some of these deeper places in the natural world. I was told that after the accident, you know, you won't backpack again. And that's, that's, that wasn't true. And so I think, well, how can I, and how can Deep Green Journey be a part of learning how to work with organizations who are much better equipped in working with folks with physical limitations to create that bridge for people and maybe create an opportunity where they can go for a walk that's more than just sitting in the parking lot and looking at the woods, you know. For some people, what if that we ask the question, well, how can we get you out there for an overnight in the woods?

You know, what do we have to do to make that happen? Because, you know, I'm always thinking, if we're flying a helicopter on Mars, we can get you into <laugh> the woods. You know, there's got to be a way. So there's that physical accessibility, which includes also working with our local parks and other people who have worked to find a way to create trails that are accessible to anyone in wheelchairs, anyone with difficulty walking, so that the, the way is clear for people to be able to have those experiences.

Then the other piece of it for me is I think sometimes accessibility also means getting over our emotional hurdles, our mental hurdles. I think nature can be a place where we find ourselves in a vulnerable position, and it's silent. Uh, in many times there's the silence that can be scary, because we're used to filling our world with electronics and things that distract us.

You know, we think about, well, what could be out there in the woods? You know, what's there to harm me? You know? And so there's that barrier as well.

So by accessibility, I mean in, in so many ways, you know, creating a place that is safe and accessible for people to experience that healing, I think is, is emerging as a bigger part of Deep Green Journey than it had been in the past.

Crystal: I've heard in the past, and I've actually done this exercise that, you know, when I'm feeling stressed, I should take my shoes off, go outside, you know, barefooted, hug a tree, put my skin against the tree, and I've done it. And when I lived in the city, I felt like a little, you know, it felt a little more <laugh> like, okay, who, what is my neighbor doing over there?

And I live in a more rural setting now, and so it's not quite, I don't feel quite so vulnerable doing that. But can you talk to me about the science? Because it, for me, it did have an impact. It did feel like I was releasing some stress and some anxiety. So can you talk about the science behind that?

Beth: Yeah. Even in what you had had just mentioned Crystal about walking barefoot, there is a connection with the nutrients in the soil, with the energy in the soil, that certainly revives us. And when you look at the totality of time that human beings have been on this planet, we haven't been indoors living all that long, comparatively speaking. So our bodies are still attuned to being in the natural world, even though we've shut ourselves from that.

And so there is energy from just playing in the dirt, playing in the soil. We've seen that children who play in the dirt actually go through life with a stronger immunity system than those who have been safeguarded, you know, from getting dirty, you know, and, and from exposing themselves. It's good dirt, dirt isn't dirty. It's good stuff. Good bacteria resides in the dirt and bacteria that can actually be helpful to us. You know, you talk about putting your face against a tree. There are a scents that particularly come from pine trees that help also to boost our immunity. If you walk in a pine forest, studies have shown that our immunity, we get stronger as individuals. And of course, just breathing fresh air, it, you know, that's outside, that's not recycled air that we find in our air conditioning systems and our heating systems is so helpful for us to clear our heads and to clear our minds.

And so there really is a science behind that feeling of wellness that we feel when we come back from the woods.

Crystal: So we've talked about the physical healing, the emotional healing. Let's talk about the spiritual healing that can happen when you're in the woods or out in nature.

Beth: I love the church. I've grown up, you know, I grew up all my life as a, United Methodist, love the church. And I have found in some places that for many reasons that church has kind of divorced itself from creation in some of its language of, you know, the, you know, I'll fly away, you know, the earth is <laugh>, the earth is not our home. And, and I understand that, you know, longing to be with God. And yet I think when, when you, when you look at Jesus and you watch him walk the earth, he actually taught the very opposite.

You know, he loved to use creation as an example of the Kingdom of God. You know, the mustard seed and consider the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. And anytime Jesus needed to kind of reorient or center back into his purpose and his connection with God, we find him going off into nature. So I think spiritually there is a resource that is available to us to reconnect with God in a way that we have not fully accessed yet, you know, or stepped into. I find that when, when I take a group into the woods or when I'm in the woods, there is a sense of God's presence in a way that maybe is, is not as present to me in other places because of the connectivity with creation. And I see how the world was created and how nature, this mutuality of nature, was created to work with itself, to the, you know, nature, the different aspects, different beings in nature really depend upon each other in their particular habitats to exist.

And there's a beauty in that studying almost any habitat. You can see how the birds and the animals and the trees and the plants all were, and the water and everything works together, and this is created by God. And so if God cares, you know, God has put so much into creation of which we are a part of. And so when we enter into that, I think we can see through creation how we are interconnected with God, and how we are interconnected with the presence of that spirit that flows in and through everything.

Before we continue our conversation with the Reverend Beth Jones, I'd like to share more about “Safer Sanctuaries: Nurturing Trust within Faith Communities.” For Christians, resisting evil and doing justice are ways that we live and serve Jesus Christ safer. Sanctuaries, which continues the tradition of safe sanctuaries ministry that has guided churches for more than 25 years, contains theological grounding for the work of abuse prevention, psychological insights about abuse and abuse prevention, basic guidelines for risk reduction, age level, specific guidance, and step-by-step instructions on how to develop, revise, update, and implement an abuse prevention plan in your church or organization.

By framing the work as a life-giving community and proactive endeavor, communities are empowered to develop and implement policies and procedures that make everyone safer. Now let's continue our conversation with the Reverend Beth Jones.

Crystal: I love thinking about that, Beth. That's such a beautiful way to just remind us that we are not separate from God's creation. We are part of God's creation. So when I'm taking a walk and I'm outside, what are some ways I can actively seek God in that experience?

Beth: For me, I, I think just in very, very simple ways, it does not have to be complex at all. One of the things that I do when I take folks out in a forced therapy walk is depending on the situation, depending on where we are, I will have them, will issue kind of an invitation, you know, to go and to experience nature in a certain way.

As an example, if we are close to a creek or a small stream, I will have them go and sit and just be present in that space. And, oftentimes, particularly if I'm working with a group that is faith-based and Christian-based, you know, access one of the many, many, scriptures that have to do with nature. And I will reference that maybe, you know, Jesus talking about it is a spring of water. You know, we are springs of water welling up from within and then sitting next to water and considering, you know, the gift of water and the patterns in the water, and reflecting on how that same water flows within us. You know, if something as simple as that can really make it very tangible, I think our faith and our, and our experience and our belief very tangible in seeing how God is indeed flowing in and through us.

So that's kind of a spiritual exercise that we can do. There are so very many like that.

I think one of the challenges for me and for many of us is when we are, you know, or I'll invite people to go and just be silent for a while. And while that's difficult, I think nature also does create a safe place for us to do that. We don't feel alone. We're surrounded by life. Hopefully we get a sense that we're surrounded by God's presence, but in a way that we don't ordinarily get a chance to experience. Even in our worship, you know, we have songs and we have prayers, and we're kind of led through that experience, and that can be beautiful. There's also a different way, there's also a different experience of God in just being and being open and seeing what God has to say.

And I think nature provides us with that opportunity in a beautiful way.

Crystal: Do you have an experience that you wouldn't mind sharing with us where you met God in a really deep way out in nature?

Beth: Yeah. During the pandemic, I went, I did a lot of backpacking on my own, and there's a trail close to us here called the Black Forest Trail. And I was just out for an overnight, and it was, it must have been June, because it was one of those evenings that it gets dark really late,  so it was close to 9, 9 30, and it was still kind of that twilight. I was sitting and I had a fire, and I was by myself probably a couple miles away from anyone else. And a beautiful, I think it was a, -- I don't know my birds as well as I should -- but I think it was a wood thrush, which has this, in Pennsylvania, we only hear them in the summer.

And so it has this beautiful song and usually they tend to sing later in the evening, so they sing an evensong. I just was wrestling with some things, you know, at that time in my life. And I heard this sound out loud, I said, “God, is that you? Is that you?” For some reason, I just, it was more than a song. It was more than a bird singing to me. I just felt the presence of God in that, and I felt I was just crying and, just so deeply aware of God's presence in that place. And it wasn't that I was looking for it. I wasn’t. I wasn't sitting there thinking, gosh, this would be a great time for God to speak to me, <laugh>. You know, it was just, I was just sitting there having a cup of tea, and all of a sudden the beauty of that song had me just really calling upon God's presence and saying, you know, “Is that you?”

And feeling like, yes, absolutely! You know, God  has been here, but I had not been aware and just opened me myself up to that. So that was just one of many instances. But when you asked the question, that's what kind of came to mind. I do remember that moment very clearly,

Crystal: Beth, as I hear you talking about really accessing these opportunities. I mean, even your, the way you describe it, it's a slower pace. It's very thoughtful. It's very open. And some people just don't have that access. I mean, geographically, don't have the access to step into, you know, a forest or go by a creek. How can those folks find this same kind of connection without the geographic, the actual place?

Beth: Yeah. In urban settings, oftentimes when I talk, I talk being in the woods or being in the forest, that's my setting.

Now, I will say this, I'm speaking from a white woman's perspective, and my understanding is that there are many areas, in urban settings, particularly in places of poverty, that those green spaces are simply not there or not as accessible. And so I want to say clearly I am speaking from my perspective, and my hope is that the work of organizations like Deep Green Journey and others, particularly more urban settings of environmental groups as we all continue to work together and, and create that accessibility for people, that there will be more green space available.

But I would say to anyone listening, just see what's out there, see what's available. Sometimes we have green spaces that are within walking distance that we haven't even realized are, are there. They could be very small patches of land and that's okay.

I hear what you say Crystal, about being in an urban area and thinking, well, what are people thinking about me? You know, sitting here? And if we can get over that a little bit and recognize that, you know, sure, they may wonder, but I think behind that wonder is also like, gosh, what a beautiful idea just to sit, just to be with that tree, or, you know, sit on that bench and notice what's around you and see some of the green, some of the grass that maybe there's some of the trees that might be there and available to you. And the longer we sit, I think the more we notice nature all around us hidden in small patches, even in the cracks in the sidewalk, the moss that grows, the grass that grows, the small wildflower grow, which we don't see usually when we walk by, but it is there.

And I think when we can notice that we notice God and we notice God's presence among us because we've slowed down a enough to listen, to look and to see and to absorb, but also to listen to that which might be speaking to us inside.

Crystal: It really sounds like a spiritual practice.

Beth: Oh, absolutely. Yeah. It's a spiritual practice. It's a spiritual discipline of just slowing down. It's the discipline of slowing and noticing.

Crystal: I have a couple of more questions before we finish up. I know you have the Church on the Mountain, and when I was reading about that, I want to hear about the Church on the Mountain, but you talked about finding the Wild God in our everyday lives, and I'd love to hear more about the Wild God, your definition and find and how we find the Wild God in our everyday lives.

Beth: Yeah, I'll start with that. Remember I had mentioned not too long ago about the vulnerability of being in nature and how that opens us up. For me, the Wild God is that God that is always calling us out into whatever that next new chapter is for us. In many, almost all cases, it's stepping into something that we're not quite sure about, you know, taking that risk. And when I think about the Wild God, it in my mind, you know, growing up God was, you know, the traditional old guy on the throne. And then, you know, over time that that transforms a little bit. And now the God that I picture when I pray is a God that kind of weaves in and out amongst the trees and is almost kind of half smiling and beckoning and saying, “Come on, come on, let's go, let's go.”

But there's also a calming presence to that too. It's not just risk taking. It’s risk taking, but knowing that God is with me. So for me, the Wild God is the God that continues to beckon us forward and of, for me, oftentimes that God is accessible. And I will say that for me, you know, the more I read about Jesus’ journey on earth, I I think, you know, there was someone who, who lived that, that idea of the Wild God here on earth for us, and took those risks and had communion with people that ordinarily we would overlook in a heartbeat. And he was so intentional about slowing down and noticing those of us on earth, that that would be bypassed.

So you asked about Church on the Mountain. It is a church that meets once a month, nearby here,  actually on a mountain <laugh> at a place called Ryder Park, here near Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

And it, it meets outdoors all year long. So it's kind of neat when we get into the winter months, we come all bundled up and in the snow and sitting on chairs. But there's something about worshiping through the change of seasons that is so beautiful. And so we're, we're actually meeting this coming Saturday and talking about noticing and talking about, you know, everything that is emerging around us in the springtime and that new life and how that's reflected also in the scriptures as well. So yeah, we just, we meet for an hour and a lot of it, you know, I will have a reflection, but a big part of that reflection is having people wander and then come back and usually wander with some sort of an intention and then coming back and sharing what they found there in the natural world.

So it's, it's really open, obviously, to anybody to come, and we have a variety of people that come and go  to that, but that's, so that's what Church on the Mountain's all about.

Crystal: That sounds like a beautiful expression of church for sure.

Before we finish today, we have a question that we ask all of our guests on “Get your Spirit in Shape,” and that's, how do you keep your own spirit in shape?

Beth:  Hmm. It goes back to what we were just talking about. I find that as a pastor, I found safety in words and in doing and in being relevant, and what are people thinking of me? You know, all of that. And so if you're talking about like, keeping my spirit in shape, meaning, you know, exercising, I think those parts of me that I'd rather not pay attention to, it is that very practice of going into the woods, not, not for a walk, not for you know, plant identification, anything like that.

Just going and sitting and sitting for a significant amount of time, sitting with my own vulnerability, sitting and noticing what's around me, sitting and being open to God, and, and, and not even, it's not really even an active time of prayer where I'm praying to God. I'm just being open, but I'm doing that in a natural setting. So again, it could be, you know, here in my, in my backyard, it could be in a local park. It could be, you know, in the mountains. But just having that time and being intentional about it and not believing my own lies of, well, you don't have time to do that this today or this week, you know, because it's so vital.

Crystal: That sounds great. Beth, thank you for being a guest on “Get Your Spirit in Shape” On the page for this episode, we will definitely include a link to Deep Green Journey so people can learn more about the ministry. You've just given us so many or given me so many things to think about and ways that I can actively get out in nature and really experience God. So I thank you for that.

Beth: Thank you for having me, Crystal. I really appreciate it. This has been great.


That was the Reverend Beth Jones, a certified nature and Forest therapy guide in the Susquehanna Conference of The United Methodist Church. To learn more about Beth and her ministry, go to and look for this episode where you will find helpful links and a transcript of our conversation. If you have questions or comments, feel free to email me at a special email address just for “Get Your Spirit in Shape” listeners, [email protected] If you enjoyed today's episode, we invite you to leave a review on the podcast platform. You listen. Thank you so much for joining us for “Get Your Spirit in Shape.” I’m Crystal Caviness and I look forward to the next time that we are together.

Today's “Get Your Spirit in Shape” episode is sponsored by “Safer Sanctuaries: Nurturing Trust within Faith Communities,” a new and comprehensive resource that continues the tradition of Safe Sanctuaries ministry by building on its trusted policies and procedures. This resource from the Upper Room and Discipleship Ministries contains theological grounding for the work of abuse prevention, basic guidelines for risk reduction, age level, specific guidance, and step-by-step instructions on how to develop, revise, update, and implement an abuse prevention plan. To learn more, go to or call 800-972-0433.

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