New Forest Forest Church – July 2021 – Forest Pharmacy – More goodness than you can imagine
Medicinal properties of trees, the scents they give off, and the intricacies of God’s creation, if only we know where to look.
Take a deep breath when out walking in a forest or woodland and you’ll be inhaling a lot more goodness than you imagine. Although the visual appeal of trees is maybe what first occurs to you - and maybe is what you think of as having a therapeutic effect - the less spectacular, invisible goodness that you are encountering is from the scents that trees emit loaded with natural compounds that are beneficial for humans too.
The Italian philosopher and theologian St Bonaventure in the 13th century saw green spaces and gardens as an important part of monasteries as they were helpful “not only for food, but also for recreation in the open air to aid the recovery of the sick and to preserve health and improve those fatigued by their spiritual studies”!
No matter how fatigued you are by your own spiritual studies (!) I hope that today you also can benefit from some time in this beautiful green space, as wet as it may be, as we are going to be connecting in particular with all the smells and aromas of the earth, the trees, and the animals nearby.
Have you ever looked up the word “smell” in a Bible concordance? I hadn’t, until I prepared this session for today. Sitting neatly between “smeared” and “smelted”, the references to smell are mostly in the Old Testament and are either about burning things or rotting things! Ah well, that tells it like it is, the reality is that smells are very often less than ‘picture-perfect’, it is hard to disguise a bad smell, and what one person might think is a pleasant smell, might be quite off-putting to another. Think of incense, campfires, perfumes, spices, air fresheners – they all have their fans and their critics.
Much of the burning of things in the Old Testament is to produce “an aroma pleasing to the LORD”, sometimes this is just burnt wood, sometimes a burnt offering of sacrificial animal or two, such as Noah offers to God after the flood. But there are also many natural aromas produced by the plants, trees and wildlife of this world that are also incredibly powerful, as well as pleasing to our noses. They don’t all have to be subjected to burning to be appreciated either.
Exposure to forests actually boosts our immune system. While we breathe in the fresh air, we breathe in phytoncides, chemicals with antibacterial and antifungal qualities that plants give off to protect themselves from harmful insects, prevent rotting, and fight disease. You can think of them as wood essential oils. These phytoncides trigger a response in our human bodies to increase the number and activity of a type of white blood cell called natural killer cells. These cells kill tumour- and virus-infected cells. It’s incredibly potent stuff, scientific researchers are falling over themselves to work out exactly how to harness this hidden wisdom from God’s creation, which maybe one day they will realise is more than just a chance occurrence?
Go and do this!
Breathe deeply, inhale through your nose, let your lungs fill up, notice the aroma of the air and then slowly release your breath. Pause for a moment, and repeat.
Psalm 34 (The Message)
I bless GOD every chance I get; my lungs expand with his praise.
2 I live and breathe GOD; if things aren’t going well, hear this and be happy:
3 Join me in spreading the news; together let’s get the word out.
Exposure to forests and trees can boost the immune system, lower blood pressure, reduce stress, improve mood, increase ability to focus, even in children with ADHD, accelerate recovery from surgery or illness, increase energy level, and improve sleep. You may have heard of the Japanese ‘forest bathing’ shinrin-yoku which has become a modern way of valuing time spent in nature, basically giving us an excuse to get outside when there are jobs and chores to be done elsewhere!
Spending time in nature helps you focus. Our lives are busier than ever with jobs, school, and family life. Trying to focus on many activities or even a single thing for long periods of time can mentally drain us, a phenomenon called Directed Attention Fatigue.
Spending time in nature, looking at plants, water, birds and other aspects of nature gives the cognitive portion of our brain a break, allowing us to focus better and renew our ability to be patient.
Go and do this!
In this place, spend time focussing on what you can smell, follow the scent to see where it is coming from, get close to the leaves, bark of the trees and try to stop your mind from wandering too far away from this place, this tree, this moment. Ask God to renew your patience for the life beyond the forest, which awaits you at the end of today’s session. Keep detailed thoughts of what your life entails at bay, keep focussing on the present moment, what you can smell, see and touch. More patience, Lord.
Taste and see (and drink in the aroma) that the LORD is good. (alternative translation - Drink deeply of the pleasures of this God) Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him! Fear the LORD, you his godly people, for those who fear him will have all they need. Even strong young lions sometimes go hungry, but those who trust in the LORD will lack no good thing.
Bach Flower Remedies
The essences were developed in the 1930s by Dr Edward Bach, a physician and homeopath who believed that the key to good health was emotional harmony. He
identified 38 flower essences made from wild plants, trees and bushes, each one corresponding to a specific emotion.
Go and do this!
In this beautiful mixed woodland, with lots of beech, holly, oak and gorse, see which of these descriptions resonates with you and go and seek out that particular tree, spend a bit of time slowly inhaling the scent of the air around, touch and rub the leaves if you can reach, or the bark of the trunk. Ask God’s Holy Spirit to minister to you where you are feeling fragile, broken or vulnerable. Ask for His healing and listen for His answer to you today. Wait upon God as you spend time peacefully in these trees.
· You might benefit from Gorse if you feel downhearted and lack optimism. The positive potential of Gorse is hope.
· You might benefit from Beech if you feel hypercritical and intolerant and often struggle to see the good in things. The positive potential of Beech is tolerance and compassion for others.
· You might benefit from Oak if you never give up and don't realise when you need a break. The positive potential of Oak is strength and understanding your own limits.
· You might benefit from Sweet Chestnut if you feel anguish. The positive potential of Sweet Chestnut is solace.
· You might benefit from Willow if you feel resentful and sorry for yourself. The positive potential of Willow is positivity.
· You might benefit from Pine if you feel guilty or blame yourself. The positive potential of Pine is absolution and being able to accept and respect yourself as you would others. For more information, see https://www.bachremedies.com/en-gb/
Psalm 34 (The Passion Translation)
Lord! I’m bursting with joy over what you’ve done for me! My lips are full of perpetual praise. 2 I’m boasting of you and all your works, so let all who are discouraged take heart. 3 Join me, everyone! Let’s praise the Lord together. Let’s make him famous!
Let’s make his name glorious to all. 4 Listen to my testimony: I cried to God in my distress and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears! 5 Gaze upon him, join your life with his, and joy will come. Your faces will glisten with glory. You’ll never wear that shame-face again. 6 When I had nothing, desperate and defeated, I cried out to the Lord and he heard me, bringing his miracle-deliverance when I needed it most.[a] 7 The angel of Yahweh stooped down to listen as I prayed, encircling me, empowering me, and showing me how to escape. He will do this for everyone who fears God.