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“Give me a drink:” Longing for the Presence of Christ – Part 4

Posted by on Mar 20, 2020 in News | Comments Off on “Give me a drink:” Longing for the Presence of Christ – Part 4

“Give me a drink:” Longing for the Presence of Christ – Part 4

—a Meditation by Naomi Wenger, Lent 3, 2020

This meditation is based on the Lenten Retreat given at The Hermitage on March 7, using the scriptures for the third Sunday in Lent for 2020. It will be posted over four days this week, Monday (3/16), Tuesday (3/17), Thursday, (3/19), and Friday (3/20). Each day includes a meditation and suggestions for practice. In this time when the whole world is focused on a virus, my hope is that you will be encouraged to keep thirsting for Christ.

Quench

We come now to the end of the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman. In this section of the story, the woman is gone. She’s in her home place testifying to Jesus’ gift of “living water,” (that is, acknowledging her own deep truth and living from that place into the forgiveness of God). What remains are two scenes, one with the puzzled disciples and one with the townspeople. Read the story in John 4:31-42.

Jesus refuses the food that the disciples have gotten in town. Rather, he insists that he has other food—doing the will of God. I wonder if you have ever experienced the loss of appetite after a particularly enriching experience. 

Jesus explains this experience by inviting the disciples to imagine. Imagine, he says, that all of these green fields are golden and dry, ready for harvest. Just so, the sower and the reaper can work together in one field in God’s agronomy. He then points to the lunch they brought, “see,” he says, you brought (reaped) what you did not sow. It is the work of all the people who bring in the harvest that you carry in your hands. Thus, you have entered into the labor, even though you did not do the work.”

This is amazing. Jesus is expanding the labor of one to include the labor of all. He is at the same time contracting seasonal growth, making all seasons compress into the harvest. Have you ever held an acorn in  your hand? If so, you have experienced this kind of compression. You have held a tree, possibly a house or furniture, perhaps the warmth of a fire or heat for cooking. In that one small nut, lies not only potential but all that will become real out of that nut. I think that is what Jesus is teaching here. He also describes the timelessness of eternity. When there is no time, that is no “beginning, middle and end” to the story of life, then all things happen simultaneously, out of time. The sowing and the reaping are done together, so that all may “rejoice together.” This is a picture of the eternal kin-dom of God in which all is joy and only joy.

Jesus’ thirst is fully quenched by the true living water he had to offer.

The woman’s thirst was fully quenched by owning her own truth and receiving the gift of life from Jesus’ acceptance.

The townspeople’s thirst was fully quenched by hearing the word for themselves.

The disciples remain puzzled and thirsty. They are thirsty and hungry. They are blessed. They will be filled.

The psalmist tells of this experience in a different voice.

Ps 42:7–11.
 
7     Deep calls to deep 
at the thunder of your cataracts; 
all your waves and your billows 
have gone over me. 
8     By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, 
and at night his song is with me, 
a prayer to the God of my life. 
9     I say to God, my rock, 
“Why have you forgotten me? 
Why must I walk about mournfully
because the enemy oppresses me?”
10   As with a deadly wound in my body, 
my adversaries taunt me, 
while they say to me continually, 
“Where is your God?” 
11   Why are you cast down, O my soul, 
and why are you disquieted within me? 
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, 
my help and my God. 

Remember at the beginning of the Psalm, the writer was asking for a sip of water. Here, he is bowled over by the cataracts, the waves, and the billows that wash over him. It is no wonder that he asks himself, “why are you cast down?” God’s provision is abundance. Rather than a drink, God comes in the fullness of the waterfall and the ocean swell. Notice that the poet’s self-reprimand elicits hope and help from God.

Practice: 

Read John 4:31-42. Having one’s thirst quenched is to be satisfied. What satisfies Jesus? Why does that baffle the disciples? Does it baffle you? Jesus turns the tables on his listeners by calling them to participate in a harvest that comes before lunch. Why do you think he does that? What do the disciples learn? How do the Samaritans respond? How do you respond?

Pray with the psalmist. From the beginning of this Psalm, we have stayed with this psalmist’s desire for a “small drink” of God. Here, we witness the overwhelming experience of being completely bowled over by the presence of God. Notice that the psalmist receives the sound of the “waves”  and the “thunder of cataracts” as the song of God. Is it hard for you to experience God’s fullness? What would God’s song to you sound like? Write your reflections.

Psalm 42:7-8
7     Deep calls to deep 
at the thunder of your cataracts; 
all your waves and your billows 
have gone over me. 
8     By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, 
and at night his song is with me, 
a prayer to the God of my life. 

Read the poem, “Solomon says.” How does this thought from Meister Eckhart help you embrace  your union with God? 

Solomon says

Solomon says
all streams run
to the sea
and return to
their source.
These waters are
like our souls
that run like streams
to the One
who is
drawing them
Home.

(Mark S. Burrows & Jon M. Sweeney, Meister Eckharts’ Book of Secrets: Meditations on Letting God and Finding True Freedom)

Breathe a prayer of thanksgiving to God for the natural way God is continually providing “living water” and “drawing” you Home.

“Give me a drink:” Longing for the Presence of Christ – Part 3

Posted by on Mar 19, 2020 in News | Comments Off on “Give me a drink:” Longing for the Presence of Christ – Part 3

“Give me a drink:” Longing for the Presence of Christ – Part 3

—a Meditation by Naomi Wenger, Lent 3, 2020

This meditation is based on the Lenten Retreat given at The Hermitage on March 7, using the scriptures for the third Sunday in Lent for 2020. It will be posted over four days this week, Monday (3/16), Tuesday (3/17), Thursday, (3/19), and Friday (3/20). Each day includes a meditation and suggestions for practice. In this time when the whole world is focused on a virus, my hope is that you will be encouraged to keep thirsting for Christ.

Drink

How much water do you need to drink in a day? Since we know that water is necessary for life, how much is enough? There are several formulas for calculating this amount. One that is easy to remember is to take your weight in pounds and halve it. Then, drink that amount in ounces of water each day. For example, If someone weighed 150 pounds, they should drink 75 ounces of water each day. One thing is certain, we have to drink. It is our action that makes drinking possible. This may seem fairly obvious, we all drink every day. But I wonder if we realize that spiritual drinking also requires our action. Leonhard Schiemer, an early Anabaptist martyr puts it this way:

“For as the water does not quench my thirst unless I drink it, and as the bread does not drive away my hunger unless I eat it, even so Christ’s suffering does not prevent me from sinning until he suffers in me.”

We can be thirsty, we can be near water, but unless we drink, we cannot be satisfied. Just so, our spiritual drinking is necessary to imbibe the living water. Jesus asks the Samaritan to drink of the living water. Read John 4:16-26.

Jesus asks the woman to own her deepest need. That is, he points to her failure in relationships—in loving. Perhaps, we can imagine a woman who is widowed once or twice. Perhaps we can imagine a woman scorned by a man, but this detail of going through five husbands and then giving up on marriage altogether and just living with the next man is evidence of disordered relationships. So, Jesus, in offering her living water shows her that to drink, she has to own her failure, she has to take off her masks and her self-pity, she must become just who she is “warts and all.” There is no other condition in which we can drink the living water. 

The funny thing about drinking the living water is that sometimes it seems as if we are being poured out, or that we are emptying ourselves. The psalmist, too, knows this feeling:

Ps 42:4–6
4     These things I remember, 
as I pour out my soul: 
how I went with the throng,
and led them in procession to the house of God, 
with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, 
a multitude keeping festival. 
5     Why are you cast down, O my soul, 
and why are you disquieted within me? 
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, 
my help and my God. 
  My soul is cast down within me; 
therefore I remember you
  from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, 
from Mount Mizar. 

My soul is cast down, therefore I remember you! What is remembered as the soul is poured out? The memory is of companionship, of joy, of glad shout and songs of thanksgiving of feasting with the throng. So, we learn with the Psalmist that as he is being poured out, he remembers God. The God who is with him in the plains of Jordan, the high mountains of Hermon and the “little hill” (the meaning of the word, “Mizar”). In short, the God who never forsakes, whether in joyous assembly or depressed and alone. 

Meister Eckhart, the 14th century mystic, philosopher, friar, priest, and theologian taught about this kind of “emptying to be filled” with these words:

Become Empty
So you want to find God?
Empty yourself of everything—
 
your worries and your hopes,
your wishes and your fears.
 
For when you are finally 
empty, God will find you,
 
because God cannot tolerate
emptiness and will come
 
to fill you with himself.

(from Jon M. Sweeney & Mark S. Burrows, Meister Eckhart’s Book of the Heart: Meditations for the Restless Soul)

The story of the woman at the well does not end here, there are two more movements for her to perform. Read John 4:27-30.

Did you notice what she did? She left her water jar. She came for water, found Jesus, and left her jar. This is probably a very significant line in the story, placed for our understanding. She has discovered the inner spring and no longer needs the well water. Then, she tells her true story to her people, inviting them to come to the man who invited her to own it in the first place.

In another Psalm (51), we hear David saying, “you desire truth in the inward parts.” I think this is what Jesus is demanding of the woman and what it means to drink of the living water. We have to tell the truth—to ourselves and to others and to God. Jesus will meet us with the forgiveness we seek for that which we hide from ourselves and others.

It is Christ in us the hope of glory. No longer I live, but Christ lives in me. This is not unity but union. As Schiemer said it, “Christ’s suffering does not prevent me from sinning until he suffers in me.”

Practice: 

Read John 4:16-30. Now that she has abandoned her water jar, what would you say that the woman is “drinking?” Is that a drink you need or want, too? How is this message of universal hope relevant to this time in history? Can you receive the living water that is offered? Write your reflections in your journal.

Read the poem, “Pregnant with God.” What do you think Meister Eckhart means when he uses the phrase, “pregnant with God?” How do the words of the poem speak to your desire for God? You might want to write about your union with God or draw a symbol or picture of what that means to you.

Pregnant with God
You are either
with or
wihtout.
I tell you
there
is
no other

(from Jon M. Sweeney & Mark S. Burrows, Meister Eckhart’s Book of the Heart: Meditations for the Restless Soul)

Pray with the prophet (below). Feel your bones being made strong. In your imagination, be a beautiful garden or a never-failing spring.

Isaiah 58:11, alt.
  The Lord will guide me continually, 
and satisfy my needs in parched places, 
and make my bones strong; 
and I shall be like a watered garden, 
like a spring of water, 
whose waters never fail. 

Lent Prayers from the Hermitage – Week 3

Posted by on Mar 18, 2020 in News | Comments Off on Lent Prayers from the Hermitage – Week 3

“Give me a drink:” Longing for the Presence of Christ – Part 2

Posted by on Mar 17, 2020 in News | Comments Off on “Give me a drink:” Longing for the Presence of Christ – Part 2

“Give me a drink:” Longing for the Presence of Christ – Part 2

—a Meditation by Naomi Wenger, Lent 3, 2020

This meditation is based on the Lenten Retreat given at The Hermitage on March 7, using the scriptures for the third Sunday in Lent for 2020. It will be posted over four days this week, Monday (3/16), Tuesday (3/17), Thursday, (3/19), and Friday (3/20). Each day includes a meditation and suggestions for practice. In this time when the whole world is focused on a virus, my hope is that you will be encouraged to keep thirsting for Christ.

Water

Wallace J. Nichols has written that “Water is the most omnipresent substance on Earth and, along with air, the primary ingredient for supporting life as we know it. For starters, ocean plankton provides more than half of the planet’s oxygen. There are approximately 332.5 million cubic miles of water on Earth – 96 percent of it saline. (A cubic mile of water contains more than 1.1 trillion gallons.) Water covers more than 70 percent of Earth’s surface; 95 percent of those waters have yet to be explored. From one million miles away our planet resembles a small blue marble; from one hundred million miles it’s a tiny, pale blue dot. ‘How inappropriate to call this planet Earth when it is quite clearly Ocean,’ author Arthur C. Clarke once astutely commented,” (Wallace J. Nichols, Blue Mind,  8-9).

We all know how important water is for life. In fact, we remember that after God dispelled the darkness with light, God focused several acts of Creation on water: a separation in the waters and then dividing the water from the land. Ordering the water was a significant act. In the second story of Creation given in Genesis chapters 2-3, after God makes a human and plants a garden, there is an interlude in the text that begins, “A river flows out of Eden.” The story goes on for four verses describing how this river divides and into what lands the successive rivers flow. Then the story of the garden and the human(s) begins again. Water is that important. It is used to identify people groups all through the Old Testament text. There are the people of the sea (Philistines), the peoples beyond the Jordan, the peoples of the great rivers (Tigris and Euphrates), etc.

Not only is water significant for our planetary identity, but each of us is primarily water. Nichols again: “When we’re born, our bodies are approximately 78 percent water. As we age, that number drops to below 60 percent—but the brain continues to be made of 80 percent water. The human body as a whole is almost the same density of water, which allows us to float. …Science writer Loren Eiseley once described human beings as ‘a way that water has of going about, beyond the reach of rivers,’” (Nichols, 10).

Jesus had a significant encounter with a Samaritan woman at a well near Sychar. She came to the well at midday to find that Jesus has stopped there to rest from a long journey. He was alone, the disciples having gone into town for lunch provisions. He asks the woman for a drink. She gets defensive (and political) and argues with him about his desire for water. He replies, If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water,” (John 4:10). Misunderstanding his reference to “living water,” she argues again that he has no bucket to get water to give to her. He then tells her that he is speaking of a spring that will well up within her, a spring of living water that does not dry up. “Sir,” she replies, “give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty.” 

What might it be like to have an unending source of water, to never have to trudge from the village to the well? She likes the sound of this offer.

Practice: 

Read John 4:5-15. Pay attention to the woman’s words. She is concerned with two things in the end, her thirst and the repetitiveness of her daily round. Jesus, on the other hand, is concerned only with God’s gift of eternal life. Can you recall a time when this crossing of intentions between what you want and what God wants has happened in your life?

Given what you know about water, does Jesus’ offer of a gift of spiritual water have any more significance for you?

Reflect on the following passage from Isaiah 55. With what does the prophet compare water? How is this like Jesus’ promise?

Isaiah 55:10–11.
10          For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, 
and do not return there until they have watered the earth, 
making it bring forth and sprout, 
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 
11          so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; 
it shall not return to me empty, 
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, 
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. 

“All rivers flow into the sea, and yet the sea is never full,” (Ecclesiastes 1:7). Spend some time in prayer recoclognizing that there is room in you for a never-ending flow of “living water.” Ask to be receptive to this gift.

“Give me a drink:” Longing for the Presence of Christ – Part 1

Posted by on Mar 16, 2020 in News | Comments Off on “Give me a drink:” Longing for the Presence of Christ – Part 1

“Give me a drink:” Longing for the Presence of Christ – Part 1

—a Meditation by Naomi Wenger, Lent 3, 2020

This meditation is based on the Lenten Retreat given at The Hermitage on March 7, using the scriptures for the third Sunday in Lent for 2020. It will be posted over four days this week, Monday (3/16), Tuesday (3/17), Thursday, (3/19), and Friday (3/20). Each day includes a meditation and suggestions for practice. In this time when the whole world is focused on a virus, my hope is that you will be encouraged to keep thirsting for Christ.

Part 1

When I was a child, my family had a lot on a lake. At first, we camped there in a tent, then we had an old trailer and a home-made camper. Then, my brother’s tree house, tree palace, really, for size, was taken down from the tree and it traveled to the lake lot where it became another room. In the end, we built a house there for my parent’s retirement. It was always the lake that was the draw. The lake and the fire pit. These were the two forces of this place. We talked about going to the lake when we discussed long weekends and vacations.  

The lot was on the western shore of a large lake, 5 miles long and 2 miles wide. So, in the morning, when the sun was coming up, the dock received the first sun. With mist rising off the water and gentle waves lapping against the bank, I would sit on the warming dock, wrapped in a towel, waiting for the day to get warm enough to plunge into the water. The bottom of the lake here was sandy with a few toe-stubbing rocks. I could spend hours floating, swimming, rock hunting at the wave’s edge, and rowing our small aluminum boat along the shore. If someone would go with me, we would row a mile to the islands in the middle of the lake and explore them. My favorite times were sleeping all night in the hold of the sailboat we anchored in the shallow water. The gentle action of the waves, the sound of the loons, and the brightness of the stars were beauty enough to contend with the mosquitoes that whined in our ears and bit our faces.

In the early days, we drank water right out of the lake. As time went on, we had a well drilled and fitted with a hand pump. We were never thirsty. There was water, everywhere, to drink. 

In fact, I don’t remember being thirsty as a child. There was a small aluminum drinking cup on the bathroom sink and we all drank from it whenever we were thirsty.

When I got older and began hiking, I knew what thirst was. We could no longer drink the water from the streams along the paths. So, we carried water wherever we went. But, sometimes, we underestimated the amount of water we might want on a hike. Or, we thought there would be water available somewhere along the way and the spring or stream, when we found it, was brackish or dry. Then, the only thing to do was to keep walking until more water was found. We couldn’t camp until we found water. Only one time, have I ever camped without having enough water for supper and breakfast in my water bottle. 

We don’t realize how precious water is and how necessary, when it is so readily available in plastic bottles and at fountains in public places. In the last five years, we have become more aware of the preciousness and elusiveness of clean water, here in our Water Wonderland of Michigan. The poet, W. H. Auden once said, “Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.”  Thirst is the gift given to us so that we are never without the water we require for life. Being thirsty is an apt metaphor for our longing for the Presence of Christ. 


Thirst

Exodus 17:1-7

The story from Scripture is about the children of Israel in the wilderness. They have just left Egypt, moving from campsite to campsite as God directed them. God has already provided clean water for them to drink at the springs of Elim and food in the wilderness in the form of manna. Now, God stops them at Rephidim and there is no water. Can you imagine a large group of people gathered in the wilderness being asked to make camp where there is no water? Understandably, they began to panic. 

But, Moses does not. But, he reacts to their request as if they are accusing him of being unfaithful to them. Remember, God has already provided both water and food for the people. So, their demand, “Give us water to drink,” can be seen as a further demand that God prove that he is, indeed, divine and as “their god,” cares for them as a god should. 

We must remember that this people has only just learned to trust their god. They have had to be convinced to leave Egypt and then only departed when the Pharaoh demanded that they leave so that the plagues will end. They are then chased by Pharaoh’s army, ostensibly so he can bring them back. They miraculously walk through the Red Sea and see that army washed up on the beaches the next morning. Then, the real hardship of their journey sinks in. None of them knows where they are going. They are not practiced nomads as their ancestors Abraham and Sarah were. They are not skilled in wandering. So, here they are at Rephidim with no water. 

Practice:

Read Exodus 17:1-7. Imagine you are with the Israelites on their journey. Feel with the people what it must have been like. Then imagine Moses’ frustration. For each of these people, put your feeling into your body. (For example, sigh heavily and audibly or raise your shoulders and clench your jaw. Make your eyes look like you feel.)

Now, re-read v. 6.  Where was God? What was God’s way of dealing with both the people and Moses? Imagine how you would have felt as Moses or the people. Let your body feel that way, too.

Spend some time in prayer reflecting on your own demands of God. Are there situations about which you are impatient for God to act? Do you sometimes demand before you look to see that God is already providing?

If you can, set a glass of water in front of you but don’t drink from it. Try to feel what it is like to be thirsty. Our bodies give us wonderful signals telling us that we need to drink. Jesus used this image of thirst in the Beatitudes: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled,” Matt. 5:6. I once lamented to a mentor that my spiritual life felt dry and empty. He responded: “That’s wonderful. Hold onto the hunger and thirst. The promise is that you will be filled.” I was taken aback at his words, but over my lifetime, I have come to regard them as wisdom for the journey. Only when I know my need, will my desire for God be satisfied.

The psalmist feels this way when he writes: 

1 As a deer longs for flowing streams, 
   so my soul longs for you, O God. 
 2 My soul thirsts for God, 
   for the living God. 
   When shall I come and behold 
   the face of God? 
   -Ps 42:1–2.

Notice your glass of water. Don’t drink. Just be thirsty. Pray with the poet: “I want more love, / Which is to say, / more God,” (Jon M. Sweeney & Mark S. Burrows, Meister Eckhart’s Book of the Heart: Meditations for the Restless Soul).

Lent Prayers from The Hermitage – Week 2

Posted by on Mar 11, 2020 in News | Comments Off on Lent Prayers from The Hermitage – Week 2

Lent Prayers from the Hermitage – Week 1

Posted by on Mar 9, 2020 in News | Comments Off on Lent Prayers from the Hermitage – Week 1

I apologize for forgetting to share the video on our blog last week, but here it is. Week 2’s video will appear on Wednesday.

Lent Prayers from The Hermitage – Ash Wednesday

Posted by on Feb 26, 2020 in News | Comments Off on Lent Prayers from The Hermitage – Ash Wednesday

We are creating weekly video prayers during Lent. Each video willl have a short reading or scripture, and time of quiet with video of a Hermitage scene, and a closing prayer.

Whole and Holy: 2020 EcoTheology Retreats, by Naomi Wenger

Posted by on Feb 17, 2020 in News | Comments Off on Whole and Holy: 2020 EcoTheology Retreats, by Naomi Wenger

Whole and Holy: 2020 EcoTheology Retreats, by Naomi Wenger

In 2020, the Ecosystems Discernment Committee (EDC) of the Hermitage Board will host three day-long retreats focus- ing on the theological implications of caring for Earth. In his 2016 encyclical, Laudato Si, Pope Francis declares that, “Rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.” In the midst of a climate crisis and the immense damage that humans have done to our Earth home, we must learn first that we are one with Earth and that it is “good” so that we can properly care for it. From mass extinctions to rising car- bon saturation of the atmosphere, we are implicated in some fairly big problems. But, as Pope Francis reminds us, there is another view, one that can rightfully motivate us to action on behalf of the planet. If we treat the place where we live as holy, we are already on the way to participating in its healing and wholeness. As Christ-followers, our work on 

We invite you to come and explore with us the ecological and theological framework for tending and keeping Earth (Genesis 2:15), and examine our resistances to act on behalf of our planet. 

The first retreat, “God in Deep Time: ‘Showing Mercy to the Thousandth Generation,’” will be held on Holy Saturday, April 11. During this day we will introduce the concept of Deep Time ecology and link that to the eternal nature of God. We will also spend time lamenting for Earth and confessing our complicity in its mis-use. 

The second retreat, “God as Wholeness: ‘All Creation Groans,’” will be on the Summer Solstice, June 20. This day will focus on the Uni- ty of God and God’s work in Creation, including but not limited to humans. We will examine the human responsibility to care for the “poor of the Earth.” We will also spend some time working in the garden. 

The final retreat is a Harvest Fest on October 31 with the theme, “God as Presence: ‘Look at the Fig Tree.’” We will experience one of the natural cycles of Earth and look for har- vests and harvesters among the creatures of Earth. By noticing our micro-environment, we will gain insight into the big picture of caring for Earth. We will also experience Nature as Word of God (the “God said” of Genesis 1). We may also harvest some of the bounty from the garden and eat from the abundance of the land. 

Conservation Gospel – by Naomi Wenger

Posted by on Dec 10, 2019 in News | 1 comment

Conservation Gospel – by Naomi Wenger

There’s a tree limb along the trail at The Hermitage that juts over the trail just at forehead height for me. For those taller, it might be neck height and some might be able to skim just under the branch without touching. Many times I’ve heard the suggestion that the branch should be cut. It is just too inconvenient, or someone might be hurt by it. The first objection to the tree branch is certainly true, it is inconvenient, in a way. The second observation may also have some merit, but as the average human walking speed is three miles per hour, it is not very likely that serious injury will result.

Every time I hear the suggestion to cut that limb, I demur. Partly because I love trees and their various forms are beautiful to me. I have also come to delight in that particular branch. It reminds me of some truths of which I need to be continually reminded.

As I enter the woods at that place in the trail, I must duck below the branch—I bow. That physical movement reminds me that I bow before the life of the woods. I don’t stride into the forest, master of it all, able to cut at whim. Though it is true, I could do that, I choose, by leaving that tree branch there, to acknowledge the tree and the forest as existing without my permission or intervention. I do not make trees. I do not make them grow. And, I do not make them with limbs that grow horizontally over a pathway. I am not the creature who spins sunlight into sugar. I do not provide homes for birds, squirrels, raccoons, insects and fungi. I have none of those special gifts. But, the tree does. In bowing as I enter the woods, I remember to respect all living things in this space—especially the tree with the jutting branch which does such important work.

If I bow as I leave the woods, I am reminded to be thankful for the gifts that a walk in the woods has given me. I have inhaled the healing air that the trees exhale. I have heard the wind in the canopy, the rat-a-tat of a wood pecker, the song of a wood frog or a bird. I have seen the emerald green of moss peeking through a mound of snow. I have marveled at the different kinds of fungus that grow on dead and dying trees. I have watched a pair of ducks take off from the swamp. I may have glimpsed three deer bounding away from the path. I see the architecture of bushes and trees—noting their strength and graceful beauty. I may have tasted the sweetness of the blackberries that line the trail. I may have pulled some sassafras shoots to take home for my morning tea. Or I might have found a brilliant yellow feather from a goldfinch on the path. There are so many riches to take away from my walk in the woods. So, I bow in gratitude as I leave. Grateful to the God who made all of these things that I can enjoy—even the tree with the jutting branch.

As I reflect on my humanness and that my usual inclination would be to “clear the path, make it easy and comfortable,” I am reminded that having to bow because of another creature is good spiritual practice. It is a practice that leads to a natural humility. I have enough practices in my life that counter a humble position. I defend myself when others point out that I’m wrong or that my way of thinking is only one of the ways one might think about an issue. So, to bow in order to enter a woodland, I am reminded that there is variety here, that there is more than one way to think about trails. I bow as a gesture of humility toward all that is not me. I bend to make room for other creatures to be as they are made to be. In the letter to the Romans, Paul exhorts Christians to “not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think” (Romans 12:3). I need a regular reminder of that injunction. Thank you, tree, for helping me remember my place in Creation is to be “with” not “over” all that is here with me.

The tree and its branch also help me remember that I bear the image of God. But, this image can so often be marred in me by my trying to grasp a “greater place.” In the Hymn of Kenosis in the beginning of Philippians 2, the writer reminds us: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
      who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
      but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
       he humbled himself” (Philippians 2:3–8).

This “emptied” quality in God is the quality that can show forth as God’s image in me. Can I walk in the wood as an emptied creature, letting the tree have its natural form? Or, do I need to change the form of the tree to suit my desires? There are good reasons to cut trees, trim branches, remove shrubs, pull weeds, or re-form a landscape. But, each time I bow to enter the woods on the trail, here, I am reminded to ask the questions rather than to assume that I know best or that my desire should naturally take precedence over the form of the tree.

A neighbor reminds me to “ask the tree, it will tell you what it needs.” To some, that may seem weirdly reminiscent of a fairy tale. But, I think what she means, in part, is that trees will tell us what they need by the way they grow and that if we listen to that “voice” we can learn both what the tree needs and what we may be able to give up for the sake of the tree. I live on this planet with all of the creatures God made to be here—large and small. My work is to listen to what God has made and so live at peace with all of Creation.

So, I will listen to the tree and be grateful for the lessons of humility and “God-bearing.”  Each time I enter or leave the woods by the tree with the jutting limb, I will remember that in bowing, I bow to the whole intricate mass of created things, and even more, to their Creator.

-Naomi R. Wenger, 2019