UM chaplain works to make Healing Gardens a reality

By Martha Taylor
Special Contributor

When Jesus says, “Come and see,” or “Do you not have eyes to see?” readers of Scripture recognize that Jesus is speaking of sight beyond normal vision. Jesus turns the eyes and heart to something that has not yet come to pass, something wonderful and healing.

And so it was one afternoon two years ago when the Rev. Pamela Cicioni and Dr. J. Thaddeus Beck stood looking out a window at an empty field. Beck, an oncologist with the Highlands Oncology Group in Rogers and Cicioni, a United Methodist deacon appointed as the chaplain at the clinic, looked at the land before them and spoke of their dreams for that land.

After Beck shared his vision for the future, Cicioni turned to him, stretched her arms to the west, and said, “Someday, Dr. Beck, I would like to see a Healing Garden built right here.” Beck replied, “Do it.”

In two short years, the vision of the Healing Garden, designed to provide an oasis for restoration and healing, is becoming a reality. Healing Gardens of Northwest Arkansas, Inc., is a non-profit organization focused on turning the two-acre parcel of land, donated by the physicians of the cancer treatment center, into a healing haven with a reflecting pool, walking paths, labyrinth, secret garden and sanctuary.

Community connections

The idea of creating the Healing Garden as a complementary space to the medical facility captured the imagination of some of Northwest Arkansas’ best.

“It was amazing how people connected so quickly to the idea of a place where people would be able to heal physically, emotionally and spiritually,” Cicioni said. “Through casual conversations and hand-drawn sketches on notebook paper, the garden took on a life of its own.”

The Rev. Pamela Cicioni, foreground, along with other founders of the Healing Gardens of Northwest Arkansas, participates in a blessing of the Healing Gardens by spreading seeds to symbolize the beginning of the garden’s growth. PHOTO COURTESY OF TERRELL ROHRBACH PHOTOGRAPHY

The Rev. Pamela Cicioni, foreground, along with other founders of the Healing Gardens of Northwest Arkansas, participates in a blessing of the Healing Gardens by spreading seeds to symbolize the beginning of the garden’s growth.
PHOTO COURTESY OF TERRELL ROHRBACH PHOTOGRAPHY

Arlin Vancuren, vice president and cofounder of the landscape architectural firm Howell and Vancuren, is leading the project. Vancuren designed the grounds and trails for Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Rogers.

Architect Maurice Jennings designed what is being called the Sanctuary, an intimate chapel that will seat approximately 20 people. Jennings is known for his work on Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs and, more recently, Hunt Memorial Chapel in Rogers.

The Healing Garden buttresses up to the fast-growing Trail System of Northwest Arkansas and will welcome all to come in and explore its varied spaces. Main elements of the project are intended to soothe and heal: water, pathways, stonework, an open grassy area, woodlands and sanctuary. There will be numerous places for visitors to sit alone or in small groups.

While the total cost of the project is still being determined, gifts from individual and corporate sponsors have already begun to appear. A public event, planned for early summer, will enable others interested in the project to talk with board members and get a closer look at the plans.

A first in many ways

Cicioni says that the physicians at Highlands have not shied away from the spiritual aspects of healing and have been leaders in the area of complementary services to support their patients, such as social services, massage and physical therapies. According to Cicioni, while other U.S. clinics have a chaplain on staff, theirs is the only private clinic in the country to have a chaplain and chapel available for anyone who may have cause to spend time at the clinic.

In addition to Cicioni, there are nine spiritual care volunteers for patients, their families, staff and visitors to the center. The volunteers include retired clergy, Stephen Ministers and certified chaplains. Cicioni requires the group to go through an additional training program she developed.

As a nationally certified Spiritual Director, Cicioni is grateful that that the underlying message for the gardens is one of drawing people closer to God.

The Rev. Pamela Cicioni shows two Founders of the Healing Gardens the architectural renderings of the garden, which will include a sanctuary, reflecting pool and waterfall to symbolize baptism, cleansing, renewal and new life. PHOTO COURTESY OF TERRELL ROHRBACH PHOTOGRAPHY

The Rev. Pamela Cicioni shows two Founders of the Healing Gardens the architectural renderings of the garden, which will include a sanctuary, reflecting pool and waterfall to symbolize baptism, cleansing, renewal and new life.
PHOTO COURTESY OF TERRELL ROHRBACH PHOTOGRAPHY

“I am very thankful that the doctors see the necessity of someone calling forth, ‘God is here,’”Cicioni said. “This isn’t a park, botanical garden or trail. It’s a sacred space set aside for a specific purpose.

“Those who come to the Healing Gardens will be invited to walk a purposeful path to the center, rest, and when ready, move back into the world with healing, courage, and dignity,” she added. “The elements of the gardens will help visitors move toward wholeness… toward God.”

While the gardens and sanctuary will be open to all people, Cicioni is delighted that she can represent the United Methodist Church in the effort.

“I am identified only as the spiritual director or chaplain [of Highlands Oncology Group],” Cicioni said. “But if someone asks, I let them know I’m a United Methodist minister. I am excited that our church will be taking part in transforming lives through the Healing Gardens of Northwest Arkansas.”

To learn more about the Healing Gardens of Northwest Arkansas, Inc., visit www.healinggardensofnwa.org, or contact Cicioni at 479-270-3553 or pcicioni@hogonc.com.