I call them Spirit Trees. And whether they’re rooted in the wilderness or in a run-down part of town, I am fortified and soothed by just knowing that they are there.
Everyone, it seems, loves trees. We plant them, photograph them and seek shade under them. The quality of our open spaces and urban parks are measured and enhanced by the presence of trees. Our children take delight in climbing their branches or hanging from their limbs. And who among us of any age has not enjoyed a chance to swing from a tree with either a rope or while sitting in a swing and looking up through the branches?
Decades ago, during a time in my life when I had been struggling with the rigidity of mainstream faith traditions, I experienced something I had never felt before while leaning against a sprawling old maple tree. Suddenly I felt a warm, steady surge coursing through my entire body. It lasted less than a minute but it felt like hours. It was powerful, private and I knew from someplace within me that what I had just received was without question, deeply spiritual and it came from the very tree I was “visiting.”
Over time I discovered that not all trees would have that same impact on me like that first experience, but if I paid attention, many actually did and sometimes it occurred in unexpected places. These silent, towering sentinels I have come to look for while traveling near and far; I call them Spirit Trees. And whether they’re rooted in the wilderness or in a run-down part of town, I am fortified and soothed by just knowing that they are there. For me, this feeling, a gentle state of being, rises to the highest level of worship. All that is required of me is to be present, to be grateful, to say thank you with a touch or a whispered prayer on my breath.
Having received this gift, a blessing really, obliges me to also share this joy with others whenever possible. In both ministry and secular settings I have taken every opportunity to encourage others, as individuals or in groups of different ages, to wait, reflect and experience the spiritual strength of trees for themselves. Sometimes we do so in total silence and other times we intentionally locate a retreat workshop, discussion, or guided imagery session under the canopy of tree limbs and leaves.
These days even though I’m nestled peacefully within a wonderful faith community where worship is deep and meaningful, I seek still the church of canopies and roots, in trees standing silent and casting their strength and Spirit. It makes me smile to know that all I have to do is go looking, expecting, and wait.