Saturday, I pilgrimaged around Hammonasset Beach State Park with 30 other Episcopalians. We visited four spots nearby the Meigs Point Nature Center. At each spot we prayed, learned, sang, and gave thanks. The gathering consisted mostly of folks from the Southeast and South Central Regions, and the prayers and litanies read were adapted from God’s Good Earth: Praise and Prayer for Creation, edited by Anne and Jeffrey Rowthorn.
Our first stop on this pilgrimage required a short walk to the coast/beach, where amongst sunbathers, sandcastle-builders, and people fishing, we read the first three days of the creation story in Genesis. Park Interpreter Gia Carboni offered a reflection on the coast, including some geographical information about how the Long Island Sound came to be.
Here are some fun facts we learned from Gia:
1. The Sound was created by the Wisconsian glacier that melted 15,000 years ago.
2. The Sound is considered an estuary: a body of water surrounded on most sides by land where fresh water runs into and mixes with salt water.
3. “Hammonasset,” as in the tribe that resided in the area, means “where we dig holes in the ground.”
After listening to Gia, we stood and listened to the Rev. Lucy LaRocca reflect on the power of experiencing the beauty of creation and creatures, and the importance of spending time in curiosity in nature. We gave thanks for God’s good earth, and sang our way to the next stop.
The second stop was along the Moraine Trail. We continued with the creation story, learned more facts from Gia (including that the Wisconsian glacier was over 6000 ft. tall!), and listened to a reflection by the Rev. Norman McCloud. Norman, who I will tell you more about later on, reflected on what it must’ve been like to witness a 6000 ft tall “fruitcake nightmare of debris,” as he called it. We were invited to explore the area in silence and imagine the force that created the landscape around us.
We then journeyed on to the salt marsh, and listened to God creating the swarms of living creatures and birds and sea monsters in Genesis. We learned that salt marshes are one of the most productive and most fragile places on earth, and have four main purposes: 1) layer of protection from storms, 2) filter water from the rivers before entering the Sound, 3) lively nursery for the fish we eat, and 4) provides migrating bird and butterflies a safe place to rest.
The Rev. Diana Rogers offered up a poem which she wrote titled The Salt Marsh, and we prayed for waters, islands, glaciers, and the longevity of our earth. Then, we moved on.
Our final stop was back at the Meigs Point Nature Center. In Genesis, God made humankind and then rested, and the Rev. Rachel Thomas, Southeast Region Missionary, reflected on all the humans who have rested in this park, and this land. She talked about all the generations that “gave” this land to others, from the Hammonasset tribe, to local early developers, to troops stationed there during WWII, to now beach-goers and families. There is sacredness in the connection of the people who inhabited this land, and how they held dominion of it, the good and the bad.
Okay enough of the what we did, and more about the why. The soul behind this gathering was the Rev. Norman McCloud. Norman is a retired priest from Vermont and just finished up as the interim at Calvary Episcopal Church in Stonington, CT. Norman has led similar educational pilgrimages in Vermont, near the Woodstock area.
“It is important in our quest to be better caretakers of the earth as Christians,” Norman said. “We have a better understanding when we are out in the world and seeing it. And, using the knowledge and expertise of people who study, live, teach nature is important to give us grounding.”
The knowledge that experts offer is not only grounding but can offer a spiritual connection that only comes from witnessing someone with deep passion and familiarity discuss the very thing they in which they find God. For the Park Interpreter, Gia, being outside every day teaching people about the environment not only uses her several degrees in science and conservation, but gives her spiritual fulfillment. “In my way, this is my spiritual place,” Gia said motioning to the surrounding park. “Being in nature for me is how I get my connection to anything and everything.”
In Vermont, Norman worked with a geologist to offer information and facts about the land they were journeying across via cars. These pilgrimages are opportunities to combine “times of learning and celebration of creation, prayer of the healing of creation, and the energy, will, and strength to do our part,” he said.
Norman hopes to develop this pilgrimage along the whole coastline of the Long Island Sound, to encourage more people to experience the awe of creation. “To stand in awe of the complexity and ancient being of the world we have inherited is the beginning of the possibility of truly doing transformative work,” he said.