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Stop stifling and start learning from unexpected sources

The Rev. Dr. Dee Cooper is Everyday God-talk’s most recent guest

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — When is the last time you talked to a bird, a fish, or a plant, expecting to be taught about God?

This is one of the questions the Rev. Dr. Dee Cooper explores with host So Jung Kim in the latest edition of

Everyday God-talk, a production of the Office of Theology and Worship in the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

Cooper, who will be installed as lead presbyter for Denver Presbytery on Aug. 13,  is also a psychotherapist and Big Leap Coach who also runs an animal adventure business. The business, Adventures for the Wild at Heart, allows people to embrace their own wild nature through playful and healing animal encounters.

Cooper uses Job 12:7-9 to ground her business. She points out God didn’t invite Job to talk with his friends, who were espousing doctrinal positions about why his great suffering and despair might be occurring. Instead, the book of Job advises, “Ask the animals, and they will teach you …”

“To me, it’s such a great reversal of what Scripture does,” Cooper said. “How we’ve seen our relationship to the creatures as being over them, even exploiting them. But here we’re invited into learning from them and acknowledging their understanding of our Creator.”

The Rev. Dr. Dee Cooper

One of the things Cooper recently discovered about herself is that she loves to wander in nature and discover things. She walks each morning with her golden retriever Winnie. Her intention is to see something she hasn’t seen before. When it happens, she’s delighted.

As part of her spiritual discipline, she takes a picture of what she sees, reflecting on what the image tells her about God — and the dynamic of being in nature and being open to receiving it.

Cooper believes our emotions, and not just our minds, are vital in responding to the grace and love of the gospel, which is revealed through Scripture and nature.

“Throughout Scripture, Jesus expresses every single emotion. There weren’t any ‘negative’ emotions,” she said. Therapeutically, “when we stifle emotions or try to control them, they come out sideways. They don’t go away, or they embed themselves in our bodies, and we start having health issues.”

Cooper did facilitation work with employees at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, where remotely piloted aircraft systems — unmanned drones — fly missions across the globe. She discovered that people were getting into their cars and driving about 45 minutes into the desert, engaging in war, and then driving home and not talking to anyone.

“That is a fragmentation that produces PTSD,” she said. “It’s where a person isn’t able to connect and feel and be with themselves. Unraveling that mentality is key. If a person can identify what they’re feeling and express it, the potential of PTSD is reduced in like minutes.”

One of Cooper’s favorite books is Stuart Brown’s “Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul.” In the book, Brown looks at play as something humans love to do because they receive energy, lose track of time — and even get to practice their improv skills.

For additional insights on giving attention and awareness to those aspects of ourselves that we sometimes neglect, listen to the three parts of Kim’s conversation with Cooper — Her Soul, Her Body of Christ and Her Heart.

For previous Everyday God-talk conversations with Presbyterian leaders, subscribe to Theology and Worship’s YouTube page here.

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