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.