31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
August 23, 2020
Psalm 104:1-13, Psalm 8
Genesis 1: 11, 20, 24-25
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
You may have heard of ADD, Attention Deficit Disorder. Have you ever heard of NDD though?
While not a formal medical diagnosis, NDD, Nature Deficit Disorder, is used to describe the psychological, physical, and mental concerns that arise when people, and particularly children, are separated from nature.
I first read about Nature Deficit Disorder in a Silver Lake Conference Center newsletter, which makes sense because in addition to connecting kids to God and nurturing their Christian faith journeys, Silver Lake’s ministry focuses on raising healthy kids to be future world leaders. Silver Lake, our church camp located in Sharon, CT knows we need nature to be healthy, to be happy, to be our best selves.
We need nature. That has become especially apparent in this time of stay at home orders. On a normal day, in a normal year, our family would watch squirrels and chipmunks, hear birds, be out in creation, as we went about our normal lives of waiting for the bus, walking into our offices, playing and doing yard work. Back in early spring, though, our weather here in New England was so cold and discouraging that our family had to make it a goal each day to even go outside.
We need nature, especially in this time of physical distancing from one another, and so some people have flocked to nature in droves. Biking paths and hiking trails, beaches and parks have been flooded with people. For some, though, their access to nature has been cut off. Public parks with their open spaces and playgrounds, especially their playgrounds, have been closed.
According to the New York Times, parents are seeing how this nature deficit is having a negative affect on their children, which is no surprise to Dr. Ming Kuo, “an associate professor at the University of Illinois who studies urban greening.” Her “research has shown that access to green space decreases aggression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder symptoms, and boosts the immune system.” (Meg St-Esprit McKivigan, NYTimes, June 23, 2020) In 2013, the journal of Environmental Science and Technology published a study of how even pictures of nature can “reduce stress and regulate heart rates.” (Meg St-Esprit McKivigan, NYTimes, June 23, 2020)
I doubt any of this information surprises you. For hundreds of years, people have believed that access to nature is good for our mental, physical, and emotional health, and over the years, there have been plenty of studies to support Richard Louv’s concept of Nature Deficit Disorder.
As people, we need nature – for our mental, physical, and emotional health. How about as Christians? Do we need nature as people of faith? Absolutely!
In nature, we are exposed to the wonders of God’s creation: the amazing speed and agility of the hummingbird, the majesty of the Grand Canyon, the sheer number of insects there are in the world, the even more vast number of stars in the sky.
When we look at the wonders of God’s creation, we hear these words from Genesis. God created the world. God created each creature in the seas, each bird in the air, each seed and spore. God created us and called us all “good”, very good.
Isn’t that a word of hope, a word of comfort we all need to hear right now? God created us and calls us good. When we look at God’s heavens, the work of God’s fingers, the moon and the stars God established, we marvel “what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that [God cares for us]?” (Psalm 8:3-4)
Nature reminds us we are precious to God. We are important to God. God has made this marvelous creation, and God has entrusted it to us, to steward and care for.
Nature with its rich diversity also reminds us of who God is and how God acts. God didn’t create just one kind of flower. God didn’t create even just one kind of daisy. God’s creation, God’s creatures, are diverse, and yet as the hymn “All Things Bright and Beautiful” says, “in love God made them all.” In love, God made us all, with our different shapes and colors and number of legs and arms, tails and antennae, flippers and wings.
God created us to be different, and God created us to be connected. Remember the song “The Circle of Life”, from Disney’s The Lion King. We need one another. What happens to the earth, to the plants, to the animals affects us all.
Some are saying this pandemic occurred because we have not respected animals and given them the space they need. I wonder about that as my neighbors post pictures of bears wandering through their backyards. Others believe that our poor treatment of this earth has led to more and more major weather events, like the wildfires in California and our record setting tropical storm/hurricane season.
As people of faith, when we look at nature, when we experience nature, we are reminded that God created us to be different and connected, to live in rhythm and harmony with each other and all of this created world.
The lessons of embracing diversity and honoring our interdependence are lessons that we, as humans and people of faith, are still struggling to learn. Nature helps us though.
While it is easy to focus on the benefits nature has for us, the most important thing about nature actually has nothing to do with us. It has to do with God. Nature reminds us to be in awe of God. Creation reminds us to focus on God. To sing to God “how great thou art, how great thou art!”
Wonder, marvel, awe – in our pre-stay at home lives, in our busy schedules and busy brains, being out in nature was about the only place most of us slowed down enough to be in awe of God. Even in worship, even when we could all be safely gathered in this Sanctuary, we too often commit the sin of focusing only on ourselves – what am I getting out of this worship service? How is this nurturing my relationship with God?
For such a time as this, frankly for every moment of our lives, we need to recapture that sense of awe. We need to remember that despite our enormous power over other people and over nature, we are not the creators. We are the created.
As people of faith, it is important, no essential, for us to remember that God is the Creator. In love, God created us. In love, God gave us care of this creation, this wonderful, diverse, interconnected creation. We are extraordinarily blessed; however we should not let these blessings go to our heads. We need to always remember that this is God’s world. We are the created; God is the creator, and God’s got the whole world in his hands, and that includes us, the church, our country, and even this pandemic.
Glory and honor, wonder and awe to God, our Creator, forever and ever. Amen.
Richard Louv is Co-Founder and Chairman Emeritus of the Children & Nature Network, an organization supporting the international movement to connect children, their families and their communities to the natural world. He is the author of ten books, including “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.”