For the Love of Trees

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Image by Diane Walker@Contemplative Photography

I have had a lifelong love affair with trees. Trees have inspired and strengthened me in many ways. The huge magnolia tree from my troubled childhood was a place of safety, giving me a place to hide from danger, offering to me a place to feel protected.

Miss Martha’s sprawling fig tree on the edge of our back yard bore wonderfully unusual fruit, soft and sweet and delectable. Her plum trees were loaded with plums, sweet and sour and delicious both ways. The fond memory I have of Miss Martha’s trees is punctuated with an angry Miss Martha catching us stealing figs and plums, yelling at us with an ominous voice, and chasing us from her yard.

The African plains graced my life with the gift of watching giraffes feeding on flat-topped thorn trees and elephants pushing their weight against misshaped baobab trees. The colorful swaying of ten foot tall bougainvillea trees was a mesmerizing sight. And in Africa, poinsettia plants are trees, trees like I had never before seen.

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Beyond this crash course on botany, and dendrology, I share a heart-and-soul love of trees. It is almost a spiritual connection for me, one that keeps me fully grounded, one that represents life, growth, rootedness, protection and sheer enjoyment.

My friend, Elaine, writes a beautiful blog entitled The Edge. In today’s blog post,Β Elaine shares a quote about what we learn from trees written by Diane Walker. (https://theedgeishere.wordpress.com/2017/08/10/contemplative2017-rooted/)

It’s possible, you know β€” we learn it from the trees β€”
to be full of grace and humor, dancing in the light
while remaining fully grounded,
rooted in the gravitas of being . . .

– Diane Walker

God is pleased, I think, when we dance in the light full of grace and humor. We learn it from the trees, Diane Walker says. I believe she’s right. So today, I will be spending a few moments sitting in the shade of our Chinese Tallow tree and swinging underneath a towering Pin Oak. Perhaps in the leaves that rustle gently in the breeze, I will hear God’s Β whispers.

 

 

Welcome, Spring!

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Welcome, Spring! We greet you joyfully on your first day and, as always, we’re glad to see you in the tiny buds on the trees and in the almost opened blossoms on the bushes. You remind us of new beginnings and fresh starts. You bring us new hope for resurrection. You call out to us to run barefoot in the greening meadows. You show us natureΒ waking up.

You are our proof that we survived another winter. Now we can feel the sun’s warmth instead of frigid winds. We can sing our songs in soft spring rains instead of in winter storms.

I love the following narrative that is such a lovely description of Spring.

Meanwhile, spring came, and with it the outpourings of Nature. The hills were soon splashed with wild flowers; the grass became an altogether new and richer shade of green; and the air became scented with fresh and surprising smells — of jasmine, honeysuckle, and lavender.

― Dalai Lama XIV, Freedom in Exile: The Autobiography of the Dalai Lama

So we are waiting with great anticipation for all the special things you bring us — brilliant cherry blossoms, a fresh crop of spring grass, verdant fronds of fern, blooming azaleas, tulips and daffodils, blossoms of yellow, pink and purple. And bugs, lots of bugs, more bugs than we really want.

Even so, we really do welcome you. Thanks for leading us gently into summer’s heat. We need that.

Silence and Solace

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Sometimes all of us need a way to escape the ordinary day. Sometimes we need silence and solace. Sometimes we need the shimmering colors of a forest and the scents that waft through the trees. Sometimes we just need to leave behind all the concerns that hold us in bonds.

I imagine that my place of solace is in a forest. It’s only my imagination, mind you, because I never ever enter a forest. It’s a shame really, because I think I would be nurtured and comforted in a forest. I think I would find inner renewal and refreshment. I think that in a forest, I might very well hear God in the whispers of the branches.

Regrettably, I can only imagine. I will probably never make my way into a forest. Too many, bugs, poisonous plants, and creatures. Still I imagine spending some quiet time in a forest. I recently read a piece written by Ishmael Beah that said “The branches of the trees looked as if they were holding hands and bowing their heads in prayer.”

His words confirm that perhaps the forest is a place I really do need to visit, and maybe even to hold hands with the trees and bow my head in prayer. It would be a lovely escape, a life-giving escape. It would be a place that would call to me to forget the things that worry me and hold me fast.

Patricia Anne McKillip is a creative author of fantasy and science fiction novels. One of her novels, Winter Rose, expresses the way I feel about the notion of an escape into silence and solace. This is what she wrote:

I did not want to think about people. I wanted the trees, the scents and colors, the shifting shadows of the wood, which spoke a language I understood. I wished I could simply disappear in it, live like a bird or a fox through the winter, and leave the things I had glimpsed to resolve themselves without me.

I’m off to find a forest. Before spring breaks through, I just might find silence and solace in the whispering branches of the towering, bare trees. I might even hear God.

Chasing Butterflies

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πŸ¦‹ Β IΒ have a childhood memory of chasing butterflies, trying to catch even one of those stunning winged creatures in a net. It seemed easy enough. Butterflies aren’t extremely fast flyers. Rather, they flutter around flowers and pause frequently in front of a bloom.

Try as I might, I never caught a single butterfly. As a child, I lamented my failure, but as an adult, I actually see the joy in the chase rather than the failure of the catch. Richie Singh has the right idea about the butterfly-chasing experience.

The joy about chasing butterflies is not the satisfaction that comes at the end, but the path that takes you there;

The irony about chasing butterflies is that sometimes you’ll get so lost in the chase, you won’t realize that you’re left chasing thin air;

But the agony about chasing butterflies is that sometimes you will keep on chasing, hoping, that a butterfly would materialize out of thin air.

― Richie Singh

Still, it’s not so bad to hope. As long as I chase with hope, it’s worth my time. I may never catch a butterfly in a net, but along the way, I’ll enjoy the chase and the hope.

Seeing the Holy in the Ordinary

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To see the holy in the ordinary . . . that is something to aspire to. Seeing the holy in the ordinary can change one’s life, making mundane activities into sacred moments. Learning to savor our days and the experiences that fill our lives can transform us.

Normally, we are a people content with the unremarkable, everyday moments, accepting the usual happenings without thought. But what if the flutter of butterfly wings prompted a season of contemplation? What if birdsong became a symphony of the spirit? What if the gentle breeze rearranged the story of our souls?

Macrina Wiederkehr writes of bringing the longings of our hearts into every present moment. She writes about finding the sacred in the ordinary by gathering up joys and sorrows, struggles and beauty. She urges us to gather the dreams and hopes of every hour that “they may be consecrated at the altar of daily life.”

Oh, that our lives might be open to holy moments and sacred days. God would be well pleased.

Small Things

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I find so much beauty in small things. Nothing delights me more than the hummingbirds that zoom across my front yard feeding and playing chase with one another, daring each other to approach the feeder.

How often we forget the message of small things, especially when life’s big things are in disarray. But the small things help us focus on special moments, special people, special events that we take for granted.

I cannot express this message better than Bishop Steven Charleston.

The message is in the small things. Sometimes when we are focused so intently on the major issues of our lives, we walk right past the small signs of hope scattered around us like wildflowers. The beauty of a summer sunset, the kindness of the shopkeeper, the call from an old friend, the playfulness of the family pet: all of these things and a thousand more are the steady stream of grace that flows past us each day.

Indeed, we are greatly blessed by the small graces that stream through our lives.

Morning by Morning

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“Morning by morning new mercies I see.”

What a beautiful thought from the hymn, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” The hymn, one of my favorites, is filled with comforting images that describe the faithfulness of God. The words were written in 1923 by Thomas Obediah Chisholm, and the hymn continues to bless to this day.

A few weeks ago, I experienced a long night of fearfulness. In the early hours of the morning, I found myself still wide awake. Unable to sleep, my mind turned to concerns and worries that I could not shake. From out of nowhere, this hymn came to mind and I began singing silently in the night. A sense of comfort and protection swept over me, and I was again reminded of the deep comfort that this hymn brings. These words stilled my soul and sustained me until the light of morning.

β€œGreat is Thy faithfulness,” O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.

β€œGreat is Thy faithfulness!” β€œGreat is Thy faithfulness!”
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath providedβ€”
β€œGreat is Thy faithfulness,” Lord, unto me!

Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,

Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

How true is the thought, “morning by morning new mercies I see.” I am moved by the words of Bishop Steven Charleston who writes of the new beginning of every first light, how we are set free by the new light on more mornings than we can count. These are his words.

Here is the hand of morning, coming so quietly to part the curtain, letting in the first light, welcoming the wide-eyed day into the sleepy corners of our lives. A new beginning is the miracle that awaits each one of us. We are the people of new beginnings, each one of us, brought here by more mornings than we can count, fresh chances from an older life, a turn of events, a change of mind, an unexpected friend, how many different mornings have we seen? You and I are made of morning, set free by the new light, forever being welcomed into a life that is just beginning.

Life does bring dark nights, times that challenge our hearts and assault our spirits. But there is great comfort in knowing that the morning dawns, every time, bringing new hope and fresh beginnings. God is faithful to be present with us in the deep watches of hard nights. God also is the creator of new mornings and new mercies.

 

A Prayer for Morning Mercies

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What morning mercies are found in common images of nature! Nature shows us the extraordinary beauty of ordinary places, places that can revive our spirits and enliven our souls. Such a place is captured in the photography of J.V. McKinney who graces us with a view of one of the lakes in North Little Rock, Arkansas.

And I share with you a morning prayer written by James Richard Lahman in his book, Prayers of the Hours.

Caring God who watches over, nourishes, and invites me into union,

As I begin this new day, I offer thanks for the sleep, the rest, and the restorative gifts to my body and mind.

Holy God, you have watched over me while I did not know it.

You have awakened me with wholeness of body and spirit.

As you have blessed me in the silent watches of the night, enable me to make this new day a gift to you.

Visit my energies, skills and talents with a touch of divine grace so that when night comes I may present my gift with joy and thanksgiving.

Great Companion of all people, Holy Spirit, Truth Divine, to you I pray. Amen

Seeing the World, Loving the Earth

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“The Earth is not barren, but alive!”

I don’t see it much. There is an enormous, beautiful world that I simply don’t take time to see. I admire those who take nature into their souls, who breathe in the freshness of the wind, who see pictures in the sky, who hear music in birdsong. I imagine that those who know how to do that are emotionally and spiritually healthy. I imagine that life for them is pure joy.

The closest I can get to their experience is to read about it, and then to practice it in the smallest ways. I love the words of Bishop Steven Charleston that describe such a love for the earth.

I looked up, and as if in a dream I saw them, ancient spirits from the mesas, gliding on rain clouds above the desert, flashing lightning as they passed, primal spirits from the forest deep, rising up to dance on the trees, mountain spirits trailing snow white capes in the wind, and the spirits of the sea, moving like a storm toward the land. The Earth is not barren, but alive, filled with the spirits of life, the forces of nature around us, old powers from the time of beginning. God is not constricted to our temple walls, but roams the wild places calling to all who will look up, see the dream, and follow.

All Things Bright and Beautiful

A photo by Anders JildΓ©n. unsplash.com/photos/O85h02qZ24w

What a clear, bright day this is! Hot, yes, but still bright and beautiful. As I sit here with my morning coffee, I am struck at how grateful I am for my life. It does present its challenges, but for the most part, I am well, safe and loved beyond measure.

It is true that when I don’t feel well, I see the dimmer side of life. I worry and fret over my health. I wonder what the future holds. I entertain dark thoughts of fear and uncertainty. But those days come and go, leaving me in relative contentment and in gratitude for all the things I enjoy.

What a delightful sight to watch dozens of hummingbirds from my kitchen window! What a joy to hear from my grandchildren with a new photo! What fun it is to watch my flowers grow (or maybe wilt) in the sunlight! What a wonderful thing it is to be close to a loving family! What wonderment there is in enjoying all things bright and beautiful!

I love the hymn text written by Cecil F. Alexander and published in 1848:

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
The Lord God made them all.

Each little flow’r that opens,
Each little bird that sings,
He made their glowing colors,
He made their tiny wings.

The purple-headed mountains,
The river running by,

The sunset and the morning
That brightens up the sky.

The cold wind in the winter,
The pleasant summer sun,
The ripe fruits in the garden,
He made them every one.

The tall trees in the greenwood,
The meadows where we play,
The rushes by the water,
To gather every day.

He gave us eyes to see them,
And lips that we might tell
How great is God Almighty,
Who has made all things well.

Grateful today for all things bright and beautiful!

Listen to this hymn at this link: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=yZq8ZUE6GTU