“The Circle: A Lesson from Winter Trees”
Circle me, Lord, keep peace within, keep harm without.
Circle me, Lord, keep hope within, keep despair without.
Circle me, Lord, keep light near and darkness afar.
Circle me, Lord, keep peace within, anxiety without.
(A Celtic Prayer from David Adam)
As I sit writing this Epistle Message a fierce wind is blowing the world around the home in which I am sheltering in the western mountains of North Carolina. I am here because it was the only place now (sooner rather than later) where I could get scheduled for the first of the two vaccine shots necessary to protect me from COVID – at least COVID as we know it right now. Yet, daily news announces mutations, variations blowing their way into the U. S., challenging projections of the trajectory of this disease. Dis-ease is truly the theme that is challenging all of life in this strange stormy, unsettling time.
The home I am in, along with the others around it, is nestled against a forested mountainside. Trees circle this mountainside. Most of them bare in the bleak cold of midwinter, but all of them vulnerable to storms and intense weather. Old and young trees, evergreen and deciduous, grove together. Today they are bearing up within a fierce winter storm bringing high gusting winds, ice and snow blowing through their landscape. A few of the trees are old with thick trunks. They stand solidly grounded, deeply rooted. They have withstood decades of storms coming and going. Their limbs can withstand a lot of snow and ice before giving in to the gravity of it all. The other trees, bare branched or evergreened are more supple. They bend and sway in the harsh wind. Their branches humbly bow to earth when snow and ice bear down upon them, touching the earth as if to pay homage to their origins, as if to seek reassurance for continuing life. The smaller, younger trees whose roots have less breadth and depth than the more mature trees around them shelter under the higher, broader, stronger branches of older trees.
In the frozen ground below this mountainside community of living breathing groves of trees there is an intricate, interconnected, woven web of roots. Spreading, reaching out, communicating, interlacing, resourcing each tree in the circle. Each tree, appearing whole unto itself, being nurtured and sustained by what’s happening underground. Life dependent on what’s being accessed from rich underground soil to nurture above ground growth and development, Root systems and rich soil: foundational to support the above ground growth of trees which are one of our world’s greatest sources of oxygen. Trees, interdependent to be sustained themselves and to sustain other life. They breathe in and out to produce then distribute oxygen for the living creatures that live in and around their circle - creatures that require oxygen for life.
I watch all these trees standing, swaying, bowing, bending in this winter storm and receive the wisdom they have to offer. They appear separate from one another, each planted in its own space, separate and apart, as individuals, as it appears to the human eye. But close enough together to break the force of the wind and weather. And below ground mysteriously intertwining in rich soil strengthening and supporting the whole.
Creation is the most astounding and authentic window to the Divine design for all of life. How often we look to the “natural” world for sustainable metaphors to live, move and have being as humans within Creation’s web of life.
We are trying to weather the stormy times we are in right here, right now, while many powerful forces appear to be trying to uproot and/or topple us. Surely, the natural world around us can teach us a few things. Nature offers us a mirror to reflect upon our life. Nature may offer us insight, enlightenment, wisdom as to how to sustain human life in the middle of difficult times, such as we find ourselves in now.
Reflect on this vision of a grove of trees hanging on to life on a mountainside, exposed to all the elements, in the middle of a winter storm. Living and breathing life back into the world around it. A circle of trees, knowing that winter will pass, spring will not disappoint, and that deep within them, the resources to fashion new life from their branches is quietly gathering, to be ready to rise when the time is ripe to re-open. Spring following winter is essential to the nature of creation. May this story of winter trees help us to open to our essential nature and live into our place in the Holy Design of things.
How are we, in our circle of faith, like these trees. What is happening to us in this stormy time? How are we weathering it? What is sustaining us? What is waiting to “spring” into new life in the months to come? How can we nurture this yet to come? Essentially: what can we learn from the trees as we “grove” together?
For your Spirit woven into the fabric of creation, for the eternal overlapping with time and the life of earth interlaced with heaven’s vitality,
We give you thanks, O God.
For your untamed creativity, your boundless mystery and your passionate yearnings planted deep in the soul of every human being.
We give you thanks, O God.
Grant us the grace to reclaim these depths, to uncover this treasure, to liberate these longings and in being set free in our own spirits to act for the well-being of the world.
Thanks be to God.
(A Prayer of Thanksgiving from John Philip Newell)