Beth Norcross began to develop the Center for Spirituality in Nature almost 10 years ago.
“I came out of the environmental community and then did some more education theologically,” Norcross said. “It felt to me that while activism was doing remarkable work, trying to make the right changes in our attitudes towards nature, that we were still missing a foundational element of this, which is really grounding our activism, even our spirituality, in the natural world.”
Norcross will speak at 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy as a part of the Interfaith Lecture Series, opening Week Seven with its theme “Nature as Sacred Space.”
Norcross is now the director of the Center for Spirituality in Nature, which she said “encourages people to go out into nature, and dig deeply and experience spirit there.”
“While folks are out in nature, (we) encourage what we would call a lived, loving relationship with nature,” Norcross said. “By that, we mean that as we engage fully with the natural world and spirit inherent therein, we have a sense of commitment, responsibility (and) love, if you will, to look at our own lives and lifestyles to see how they’re affecting our beloved.”
In her founding of the center, Norcross said she was also interested in finding out where people go “to find God, to find spirit, to find source, to find mystery,” when churches and other traditional congregations are losing membership.
“We found more and more, particularly with young people, and older people as well, that they wanted and needed a place to go where they could experience that deep sense of spirit that they no longer got in a formal religious institution,” Norcross said.
In addition to her work with the Center for Spirituality in Nature, Norcross has a master’s degree in theological studies and a doctorate degree in ministry, and she serves as an adjunct professor at the Wesleyan Theological Seminary.
“I was working in the environmental field, and really still felt this passion to be engaged with Earth, and I thought I would go into something less political, so I went into church work,” Norcross said. “While I was in seminary, I just found every course was really a re-experience of the natural world, of creation, if you will, the relationship between humans, creator and creation.”
Today, Norcross will speak about the meaning of “sacred ground” and how that relates to national parks. She said her tentative title is “Seeking the Sacred from Yellowstone to your own Backyard,” with three phases.
“I’m going to first reflect on the meaning of sacred ground,” Norcross said. “Then we’ll move on to discuss whether and how the National Parks are sacred ground, and then lastly we’ll open up that definition of ‘sacred’ and of ‘national parks’ to see if we can … offer a deeper, more accessible notion of sacred ground.”
Norcross said she hopes Chautauquans will “reflect more deeply” on sacredness and the idea of sacred ground.
“I hope that we will all begin to see our own backyards and our own local parks or landscapes as sacred ground,” Norcross said, “mini-national parks, if you will, that deserve the same attention and curiosity and wonder that we give our capital ‘N’, capital ‘P’, National Parks.”
Norcross, who has visited the Institution before, said she considers it a privilege to be onstage at Chautauqua.
“I think this notion of what is sacred ground is very timely, as we confront the rather existential crisis of climate,” Norcross said.