By Jen Ugolino

If you know me, you know I’m a sucker for nature metaphors - mustard seeds, vines, lions and lambs - you name it, I love it.  My small group often laughs and knows what verse “really spoke to me” before I’ve even shared it.  In fact, I’ve been teased about my relationship with nature for as long as I can remember.  My cousins never tire of sharing the story when at the tender age of 8, I threw a temper tantrum crying “you’re hurting nature!” as my closest cousin took to carving freshly torn branches from my backyard with his shiny new pocketknife.  I was beside myself.  

I still am.  I’ve been completely shaken by the ways God has spoken to me through nature in the past year.  Recently, I’ve caught myself saying to others “I feel like I’m trudging through the mud.”  What a tiresome thought for a grown-up.  Mud is messy, dirty - I can’t think of many good uses for it here in this city.  But mud to a child - that’s another story.  Mud could build a moat, a castle, heck, even a pancake.  Mud can be molded, mud is an adventure. 

As I reflect on the past year feeling mostly “stuck,” I’m encouraged by this imagery and reminded that God has given me countless opportunities to play, to be creative and to see Him in new ways from a new depth in my faith.  This journey might not sound exciting- few people I meet these days like dirt- but when we get messy, look at creation with the eyes of a child once again and ask for help when we get in too deep - it can move us in ways we never thought possible. 

I’d like to share what’s been shaping me this year, nature inspired and otherwise:


Animal, Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver - has helped me to honor creation through growing, purchasing and cooking food, and to revel in the wonder of God’s timing and seasonality.


Meditation at Arverne by the Sea (Beach 67th St) – has been a place for me to reflect, set goals and be still when I need a little escape from the city to ground myself or feel renewed. 

Creative Workdays at the Flower District - a special time on select Saturday mornings with a dear friend to delight in God’s creation and explore my creative side.  I consider this an important part of my Sabbath. 

La Sagrada Familia by Antoni Gaudi - I’ve spent a lot of time enjoying architecture this year and reflecting on the mark man has left on nature.  I particularly enjoy works that integrate natural elements, go figure.



Undoing Racism Workshop - this training shook me to my core and has greatly impacted the way I see this city.  The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond runs many excellent diversity and social justice trainings in NYC.  I highly recommend. 

Death, Sex & Money Podcast - an insightful podcast about “the big questions and hard choices that are often left out of polite conversation.”  It’s helped me to remember that each one of us is going through something and that we all have a story to tell. 

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero - gave my small group a common language to talk about our feelings as they related to faith.  I’m grateful for this book and the way it brought our community closer.

Conversations with Katie Knipp Willis - a longstanding member at Forefront, Katie has given me space to communicate about and reflect on faith, love and life.  I’m thankful for the wisdom and support she’s shown me this past year. She’s pushed me to better understand God and myself.

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