How “America’s Holy Ground” was born

How our book got its start

By Emily Martin, Disciples News Service

Over a decade in the making, America’s Holy Ground: 61 Faithful Reflections on Our National Parks is the result of a partnership between Brad Lyons and Rev. Bruce Barkhauer, the leaders of Chalice Press and the Center for Faith and Giving, respectively.

The idea first came in 2007 when Barkhauer spent a sabbatical exploring and experiencing the wonder of God in nature. This specific collaboration began in 2017, “when I needed a place to spend the night in Louisville,” Lyons remembers. He stayed with Barkhauer, and as they talked on the porch, Barkhauer shared his sabbatical travel stories.

They realized between the two of them they’d been to many of the national parks and were happy for an excuse to visit more. Together, they wrote reflections and discussion questions on unique themes for each of the 61 parks.

“We have lots of official, professional partnerships, but where collaboration really matters is when it develops into real relationships,” Lyons suggests. “A non-work conversation turned into this professional project, so it never felt like work. We see partnership like this across our Church – it’s the kind of work that Church does at its core, providing a social impact on our daily lives.”

That collaborative relationship was especially important when, in February 2019, Indiana Dunes was declared the newest national park. The two authors quickly worked together to add the 61st devotion in time to be included in the book, which was already at the printer.

“It was really fun to do the homework on this project,” remembers Barkhauer. “The themes and questions worked themselves out as we studied.” Both had numerous personal ‘holy moments’ to reflect on, like Barkhauer’s trip to the Grand Canyon: “The closer you move to the edge, the larger and deeper it becomes, and the smaller you become…It’s a remarkably humbling experience.”

Their writing process focused on the important messages the parks’ stories tell. “There’s a very serious element to this work for me,” explains Barkhauer. “Our planet is a beautiful, wondrous, mysterious thing…It was obvious to me when writing that everything on this planet is woven together, and as stewards we are responsible for its care and protection.”

Although America’s Holy Ground tells the interdependent stories of nature and is a natural companion on park visits, it can also be used to experience faraway places from home, in a variety of settings.

“We all have those sensory moments that trigger great outdoor experiences,” says Lyons. “In those times we can get beyond what’s weighing us down, what’s cluttering our brain, we remember that this world is a great gift from God.”