The Big Idea: Alden E. Stoner
Everyone has a story to tell. Thanks to the organization Nature Sacred, people have a chance to write their tales in discoverable journals at Sacred Places all over the country. Alden E. Stoner, CEO of Nature Sacred and contributor to Benchtalk: Wisdoms Inspired in Nature, is here today to tell us a bit about how these journals got started, and why they’re so important.
ALDEN E. STONER:
More than 25 years ago, we tucked a blank, weatherproof journal beneath a bench situated in our first Sacred Place, what we at Nature Sacred call contemplative green spaces intended to encourage peace and well-being. At the time, we had no idea if anyone would write anything in it. When we returned a couple of weeks later and peeked inside, we were astounded. The entries were moving, deeply personal, and insightful—it was as if we’d opened a portal to people’s hearts, witnessing all that is good in humanity.
From that point on, in every Sacred Place we helped create across the country, we placed a journal, believing that the unique natural environments of these spaces encouraged the open sharing we saw unfolding in the journals.
Countless individuals, young and old, from all walks of life, have passed through these Sacred Places. Many have paused on the bench, discovered the journal, and in turn, left a piece of themselves for others to find inside. They’ve offered hope and encouragement to fellow anonymous journalers. The journal authors speak about reading other people’s stories—one writer, initially hoping people would think and pray for him, started thinking and praying for others after reading the journal.
Over the years, as we archived entries that numbered in the thousands, occasionally sharing them on social media or in newsletters, we recognized that we were holding something truly special. Then two things happened: COVID and the approach of the 25th anniversary of our organization, Nature Sacred. And the idea for publishing a curated selection of journal entries was born. We believed that these stories, showing the bonds we share and the good in people, could really lift spirits when we all could use a bit of encouragement.
Aiming to reach a broader audience, we decided to make the book available in three different formats: an e-book, a paperback, and a limited edition copy. The limited edition version is packaged to reflect the setting where the entries were captured. It is hand-bound, featuring a hand-made bench, like those found in Sacred Places, in relief on the cover. Inside, one quote per page is interspersed with sketches, also collected in the journals. The pages are of recycled paper, white rice paper, pressed with leaves, divides the book into thematic sections.
The paperback version is a digitally printed replica of the collector’s version.
Regardless of which version is chosen, when someone reads the entries, it’s impossible not to feel connected to these nameless writers, to their joy, their heartache — their whimsy and their show of compassion and love for strangers.
In this era of growing political and social divisiveness, the world needs this reminder of our connectedness and of nature’s power to stir us — to connect with something greater than ourselves. This entry is a perfect example:
“I always feel better after sitting and reading this book. Sometimes I’m so scared; I feel like I’ll split in two. Then I remember that no matter what happens in life, there will always be sunshine and falling leaves and grass to sit in… I’m comforted. And so grateful.” — Sacred Place at the Children’s Peace Center, Baltimore, MD.