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Forest Bathing

Melannie Svoboda, SND, in her blog “Sunflower Seeds,” recently introduced her readers to the term “forest bathing.” For me this term, which is of Japanese origin and practice, was new. And I love the concept. Of course, I immediately changed it in my mind to “Woods bathing,” something I have been doing at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods since attending high school here in the 1950s. Now I have a name for it!

Sister Melannie cites Dr. Qing Li, in his popular book, Forest Bathing, who says that “the key to ‘unlocking the power of the forest lies in the five senses.’ We explore the forest not only with our feet, but also with our ears, eyes, nose, mouth, and touch. We notice, for example, the beautiful patterns in the forest: the layering of the leaves … the texture of the barks of the trees … the petals of the flowers … the seeds tucked inside the pine cones. We listen to the trees swishing in the wind, a squirrel scurrying along the forest floor, an unseen bird somewhere high up in a tree singing its distinctive song. It is when we use all our senses to connect with the forest that ‘the magic happens.’”

Dr. Li summarizes the importance of forest bathing with these words: “The forest (read The Woods) is like our mother, a sacred place, a gift to us humans from the divine. It is a paradise of healing.”

Ingrained in the Woods

The Woods is such a place for me and, I suspect, for countless other Sisters of Providence, Providence Associates, ministry partners, family members, students, alumnae/i … the list goes on! The Woods becomes integral to who we are. Once instilled in us it is hard to separate us from the experiences – it is ingrained for a lifetime.

And for some, it becomes so integral to who they are that they choose to be buried here, surrounded by its charm and beauty even in death. This “spell” that The Woods can have on one has become more and more obvious to me as minister of Providence Community Cemetery, the special place at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods where those with a relationship to the Sisters of Providence and this sacred place can request cremains internment.

When making an inquiry, the person states all their connections and sometimes describes just why The Woods is special. Rita Tatum, a Providence Associate and Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College alumna, whose cremains were interred July 31, 2021, expressed herself in a poem read by her sister at the internment. (Excerpt below)

Walking along a narrow woodland path one sunny fall morning

I stood at the end of the path puzzled and confused. Why had

others wandered to this space and stopped rather than proceeding?

Other walkers marked this path before me; like me they stopped here …

So what was special here?

Then I felt Love … I felt my Father’s hugging peace. And I knew this quiet spot on a

narrow path in the woods that simply reached itself

was walked to accept God’s why, not mine.

I sat quietly some unknown moments longer.

Enjoying songs only silence knows how to sing.

Indeed, The Woods “is like our mother, a sacred place, a gift to us humans from the divine. It is a paradise of healing.”

Learn more about Providence Community Cemetery here.

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Sister Ann Casper

Sister Ann Casper

Sister Ann Casper, SP, retired as the executive director for Mission Advancement for the Sisters of Providence in 2018 and currently serves as minister of Providence Community Cemetery at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. Sister Ann has ministered in various scholastic and administrative positions in Indiana and North Carolina. She also was a member of the Sisters of Providence leadership team, serving as General Secretary.

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  1. Avatar Marilyn Schaaf Rausch on September 10, 2021 at 6:28 am

    Thank you, Sister Ann, for this beautiful reflection. It triggered a distant but distinct memory of walking past the cemetery on a snowy morning, feeling that I was inside a snow globe, being watched and protected and loved. A true Providence experience.

    • Ann Casper, SP Ann Casper, SP on September 10, 2021 at 6:34 am

      What a lovely image, Marilyn! Different season yet similar feelings of being touched and held by this sacred place. Thanks so much for sharing it

  2. Avatar Marsha Speth, SP on September 10, 2021 at 6:47 am

    A beautiful reflection that expresses well the gift of these Woods! Thank you!

  3. Avatar Rosaline Secrest, PA on September 10, 2021 at 6:51 am

    What a beautiful expression: forrest bathing. It is certainly true that whether walking in the woods surrounding our home or in The Woods, all my senses are engaged to appreciate the beauty. Thank you, S. Ann, for reminding me to recognize the gift that it is: ” a gift to us humans from the divine, It is a paradise of healing.”

    • Ann Casper, SP Ann Casper, SP on September 10, 2021 at 8:29 am

      Thanks, Rosaline! Your “home woods” is another example of God’s gift and I know how much you and Harry enjoy that gift!

  4. Avatar Jeanne Hagelskamp, SP on September 10, 2021 at 8:04 am

    What a beautiful reflection, S. Ann….and what a lovely poem by Rita. So many of us can resonate with your/her words! Thanks for the reminder!

  5. Avatar Marilyn Neuman on September 10, 2021 at 8:25 am

    S Ann, it’s so good to have a name for what we’ve been experiencing in our Woods. I first visited the SMW campus in 1945, and even as a fifth grader, I fell in love with our Woods.

  6. Avatar Stephen Modde on September 10, 2021 at 2:11 pm

    It would be nice to drive to SMW and bath in all it’s beauty. I resonate with your expressed thoughts. For years, we were taught that true contemplative prayer is sitting in silence. For myself, I had difficulty with that. Now with Covid, since I no longer go to the gym, walking has become my daily exercise and prayer. You remind me that I have been forest or nature bathing! I no longer feel guilty about not sitting in silence. “The core message of the incarnation of God in Jesus is that the Divine Presence is here, in us and in all of creation, and not only “over there” in some far-off realm.” Contemplative Walking, Richard Rohr. PS/ Thanks for encouraging me to have my cremains at SMW, rather than, to quote you, “strewn along Chicago lakeshore.”

  7. Avatar Paula Modaff, SP on September 10, 2021 at 3:12 pm

    Ann, thank you for expressing in words what so many of us have experienced. I was so surprised and pleased when my sister, Barbara, informed me that she intended to have her husband’s cremains rested at the Woods. Life is changed, not ended … so easy to believe in this place of beauty.

  8. Avatar Jeannie Smith on September 11, 2021 at 12:53 am

    There are little roots that extend from the ‘souls’ of my feet deep into the soil of the Woods. They reach almost 2000 miles these days, but they are still emphatically connected to that Holy Ground, and to all the other roots embedded there.

  9. Ann Casper Ann Casper on September 11, 2021 at 5:45 am

    I love that image, Jeannie, and all that it expresses. Where would we be without our rootedness here? Life would surely be different.

  10. Avatar Janice Smith, SP on September 15, 2021 at 9:23 pm

    Ann, as I was quieting myself for a good night’s rest, I happened upon your beautiful blog. Thank you so much for these reminders of the beauty and holy gift these “Woods” of ours are. I am taking this blog and pictures to my retreat days here.

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