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the tree

Winter tree in Saint-Laurent.  Jan 28 2013
I am facilitating a spiritual formation course on Tuesday evenings based on the book, The Good and Beautiful God.  Basically, the book deals with aligning our perceptions of God with the God that Jesus presents in the New Testament.  It is a well-structured study with accessible language, group learning, and a spiritual discipline exercise (the author calls it soul-training) at the end of every chapter.  This week we were to spend 5 minutes in silence every day and take some time to observe creation.

Sounds simple, and I basically do these two things most every day anyway.  But, as always seems to happen, the very week I am to practice these disciplines and write something about them, my schedule is turned on its ear.  I was working as a conference assistant for 3 days which meant early mornings and long days inside a classroom downtown.  In addition, I had a house guest for 4 days which means that my alone/silent time could not be done in the place and time I normally do it.  It was a good conference, but the many details I had to take care of, the constant interaction with people, the full days of presentations, meals with fellow conferencees, and the addition of a house guest with whom I spent a lot of time (which was very enjoyable) all made for a very tiring 4 days.

I had a few hours alone at home on Saturday night which I used to prepare the worship set and a short talk for Sunday morning.  All good stuff, but it exhausted me.  Why is it that the times I really need to have some quiet, contemplative space to rejuvenate my body and soul are the very times when it is virtually impossible to find a place for it?  There was a tickle of guilt at the back of my mind these past few days which told me that I probably could have found a silent spot at the conference or taken a moment to walk somewhere (in minus 24 degree celsius weather) to look at nature.  Yes, I know.  I could have carved out the time.  And I probably should have.  But I didn't.  So what now?

Today, I was on my way home from an early morning staff meeting at the university when I decided to stop in at the grocery store for milk.  I crossed the street and as I did, a lone tree caught my eye.  It was standing tall, its branches stark and tangled against the grey sky.  The afternoon was cold and it was beginning to snow, so I hurried across the street and was about to step into the grocery store when I made a last-minute change.  I turned my feet toward the tree, saying "yes" to its invitation to come and see.  I got close to it and looked at its wild, unruly shape.  It spread itself over the street, over the parking lot, over the cars and the people hurrying by.  And it pointed up.  Up, up, up.  And it asked me to look up, up, up as well.  There is nothing particularly lovely about a tree in winter.  There is no fancy foliage, no colourful greenery, no fall colourful vibrancy.  Just bare branches.  A naked tree, exposed to harsh elements, standing tall and solid.  Pointing up with a messy display of crooked fingers.

I got down low and snapped a few pictures of the tree against the snowy sky, then I got up and proceeded to the store.  And though I was still fatigued from a busy week, I was lighter.  I was not as annoyed at people around me.  I was not as self-absorbed in my little world.  I cared a little less about the stresses facing me this term.  I breathed a little deeper and I held my head a little higher.  And I remembered this poem.

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Trees
by Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918)

I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth's flowing breast

A tree that looks at God all day
And lifts her leafy arms to pray

A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair

Upon whose bosom snow has lain
Who intimately lives with rain

Poems are made by fools like me
But only God can make a tree

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I want to be like that tree, looking at God all day.  It's not hard work; I just have to lift my crooked arms and look up.  Thanks, Mr. Tree.

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