Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Tree as Spiritual Metaphor


Jomon Sugi Japanese Cedar in Yaku Shima, Japan

As I've shared before, I've come to appreciate nature both in its own right and as a site for developing my awareness of God. I've been taking meditative walks outdoors (see "Our Sister Mother Earth," 22 April 2010). I've been learning about the ecology of the watershed I live in (see this cool website on Peace River Watershed). I've also been reading in environmentalism (most recently Eaarth by Bill McKibben). And I've been reading nature poems (especially Thirst by Mary Oliver). So when I came across a passage where Thomas Keating uses a tree as a spiritual metaphor, I paid particular attention.

Thomas Keating writes: "Take the image of a growing tree. At first you see the trunk and the branches. Later come the leaves. This makes the tree beautiful, the stage of growth that comes when you first learn how to enter into interior silence. After the leaves come the flowers, another moment of intense satisfaction. But they quickly die and fall to the ground. The fruit comes only at the end of the season, and even then it takes a while for it to ripen on the tree. So don't think when the leaves appear and the flowers come, that this is the end of the journey. The spiritual journey is a long trip." "Moreover," the spiritual life works in seasons so that "your experience will seem to recycle . . . You seem to be returning to the point from which you started, but in actual fact you are at a higher level." In other words, though you may find yourself bare of leaves for a time or though your leaves may start again growing from buds, your roots will be a little deeper, your trunk a little wider, and your branches reaching out a little farther. 

The tree in the picture above is between two and seven thousand years old. As Keating says, "The spiritual journey is a long trip." The photographer, Rachel Sussman, has taken on a project of photographing the oldest living things on the planet. I recommend her blog or her 14 min. talk on TED as a way to reflect on this metaphor and the spiritual life.


My prayer is that we keep growing, that we have patience with ourselves and each other as we grow, and that we will produce more and more fruit of the spirit.

5 comments:

RC said...

Paul, thank you sharing this and framing it in such a lovely way. It's very meaningful and encouraging. I join in prayer with you in your prayer that "that we keep growing, that we have patience with ourselves and each other as we grow, and that we will produce more and more fruit of the spirit." Amen!
--Rickey

Mark Wills said...

Nice frame for Lent. Praying that this season sees my roots grow deeper. Thanks for the encouraging word.

jen said...

Hi Paul,

I just read this for the first time; thanks for sharing this. I really appreciate the picture of spiritual life that plant life provides for us- I'm now watching trees remain silent and patient until they are free to let their buds burst forth with green leaves. The buds have been there for weeks, and yet the trees remain silent and almost disciplined until the time is right. I know that they are also drawing up water and any remaining nutrients in the ground from winter's debris, so I learn that I too should be doing the same and preparing for the time when I am called to grow.

Thanks again for sharing.

John Orzechowski said...

Paul, thanks for sharing. The tree is a great image, indeed. I like your emphasis on Keating's assurance that the "spiritual journey is a long trip." Thinking of trees, I find it comforting that a tree's growth is slow, steady, imperceptible.

Anna said...

Paul, I loved the photo of the tree (what a great project to photograph
the oldest living things on the planet). You really helped make the Keating exerpt come alive in a fresh way. And your prayer resonates in my heart--"...that we keep growing, that we have patience with ourselves and each other as we grow, and that we will produce more and more fruit of the spirit." Amen! Thanks for sharing. Blessings, Anna

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