WINTER PARK | A new nature brochure identifying plants along the boardwalk at San Pedro Spiritual Development Center has people pausing to “smell” the plants. Following several requests from the community, “A Closer Walk”, named after the boarded path to Lake Howell, is now available for nature lovers seeking time for peaceful reflection with their creator. Kimmy Zeiler, program director at the retreat center, calls it, “a tremendous opportunity for our community to put to practice what Pope Francis calls for in Laudato Si (Care for Our Common Home), ‘A healthy relationship with creation is one dimension of overall personal conversion.’” She hopes it will “provide an even fuller understanding of the majesty and wonder of God through His work in creation.”
The boardwalk runs just over a quarter mile, turning and peeking around corners and luring visitors through surprising landscape. From the moment you open the gate behind the St. Joseph the Worker rooms, you notice crickets chirping as squirrels scurry along the red maple leaf path made of withered leaves beneath the boardwalk. It is practically a musical experience— nature’s hymn celebrating the marvels of the ecosystem that surrounds them. Hidden by thick foliage, beetles and lizards make their home in fallen trees. As one reaches the lake, ducks become visible through the mangroves as the waves gently flutter along their roots. Toxic laurel cherry blossoms grow alongside colorful red winged sumac. Muscadine berries burgeon from vines entwined around Monkey Ear trees, a feast of textures and color for the eyes.
Zeiler enlisted the help of her cousin, Cory Gillis, to identify the plants for the brochure. It took the fisheries and wildlife biological scientist all of four hours to get the job done. Gillis lives in South Florida and is currently working on a project in the Everglades. “I see God in everything, biotic (living) and abiotic (non-living),” he said echoing the theme of “everything is connected” from Laudato Si. “Nature provides everything we ever need or want. Everything we have in our cities comes from nature!”
In his most recent Post-Synodial Apostolic Exhortation, Querida Amazonia, Pope Francis acknowledges the “close relationship between human beings and nature” (p.41). If indeed “everything is connected,” then learning about nature teaches us about ourselves, and cannot help but to bring us closer to the Divine.
Gillis, a parishioner of Nativity Catholic Church in Hollywood, said he always felt God calling him, but could never quite put a finger on the mission. “Trying to figure it out, I found that many people who follow God, show their love by assisting people who are alive now although, the plants and animals that God gave us dominion over were severely lacking in our divine services.” Finding himself most at peace in nature, he realized, “God needs me to shepherd the land! Through doing so, I can help infinite more lives by helping our planet become sustainable, than I can by assisting only currently living beings during my lifetime.”
Laudato Si states, “The Lord was able to invite others to be attentive to the beauty that there is in the world because He Himself was in constant touch with nature, lending it an attention full of fondness and wonder. As He made His way throughout the land, He often stopped to contemplate the beauty sown by His Father, and invited His disciples to perceive the Divine message in things.” (Laudato Si, p. 97) Seniors from San Pedro’s Road Scholars group were the first to “perceive” these using the brochure to be fully attentive to what is on the path earlier this month. Many of them expressed how amazing it was to be able to spot the plants and identify their names in the guide. The brochure also includes information about the scent of each plant, adding to the enjoyment of and communion with this sacred space.
This Lent is a perfect time to seek “a closer walk” with the Lord by spending time in nature. More brochures identifying animals, birds and other plants elsewhere on the property are on the horizon—all pointing to the wonder of God’s creation.
By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic March 4, 2020