On a recent retreat I had a view of a tree in the middle of a field. The tree had a strong trunk that was bent at 90 degrees. The lateral part of the trunk had many branches coming out of it – branches that seemed as strong as the branches originating in the lower, straighter part of the trunk. The branches from the bent part seemed to compensate for the position of the trunk so that in the summer when the tree is in full bloom, you might not even notice that the trunk was bent as the leaves bloom and fill out the tree form.
I had a view of a tree in the middle of a field. The tree had a strong trunk that was bent at 90 degrees. I wonder what happened to the tree to cause it to be so distorted?
I wonder what happened to the tree to cause it to be so distorted? Was it strong wind overpowering its growth? Was it a sudden lightning strike – something catastrophic that changed its direction?
The strength of that trunk will be supported by its strong connection to ground with roots that run deep underground to the source of life-giving nourishment and water. Its bowed position gave it an air of humility and grace in its unyielding stance and its repositioned branches were poised to absorb light from above. The tree looked sturdy and immovable despite its altered shape. There was a great deal of snow piled around it like a blanket protecting it. In the spring that snow will feed the roots deeply and begin the new growth that comes with spring. For now its craggy misshapen form seems to be waiting for spring to come for it to do its best at its tree-ness. It waits.
Sometimes life can cause us to feel as bowed down as that tree.
Sometimes life can cause us to feel as bowed down as that tree. The weight of life responsibilities, the pressure of expectations and hopes that are not to be or not yet fulfilled, the grief of a sudden catastrophic loss in the midst of our lives – all of these things can cause us to feel as bent and bowed down as that tree. When we send out our branches, tentative and hopeful, we have the opportunity to be nourished by sun and rain once again. Our rootedness in the ground of God’s presence, feeding us, strengthening us, willing us to grow and thrive becomes the source of our desire to carry on.
That recent retreat allowed me silence and space to come to terms with all the pressures of my life. My retreat offered me the opportunity to begin to look at those elements of my life that were causing me to feel weighed down and sluggish – bowed over. There had been conflicts at work, the care of an aging mother-in-law recently moved into a Nursing Home, the ongoing worry of two parents both experiencing Alzheimer’s dementia, the busyness of my day to day schedule of work, my care and concern for our larger Anglican community from my perspective as a Bishop’s wife, the care and concern of a Bishop and husband, who is always overextended in time and energy, the ongoing work of my practice as a Spiritual Director, and the presence of two new grandchildren, along with the concern for supporting our sons and their wives as new parents. I had begun to feel very tired, very bowed down and less gracious than I ought to be or know that I could be.
Time spent in silence and solitude allowed me to pay attention to those spaces deep within myself that had grown weary and sad.
I had the use of a small cabin, “The Blue House” it was called, at Light of the Prairies Retreat Centre. My time spent in silence and solitude in that space allowed me to pay attention to those spaces deep within myself that had grown weary and sad. I listened to the voice of my inner self and honoured all the feelings that were welling up within me. The opportunity to acknowledge all of the emotions I held in my inner spaces allowed my soul to feel that it had been deeply cared for. I wish I could say that I came away from that time with a fantastic solution to all of my life’s issues. But instead, I came away with a feeling that my soul had been listened to, that my discomfort had been touched by a grace beyond anything I could have imagined or created for myself. I had connected to the source of my being, the love of God which calls us to draw deeply from the ground of nourishment offered by the Creator of all life.
I came away with a feeling that my soul had been listened to, that my discomfort had been touched by a grace beyond anything I could have imagined or created for myself. I had connected to the source of my being, the love of God.
Hildegard of Bingen, a 12th-century mystic and Benedictine abbess, coined the term Veriditas (literally greenness) to refer to the greening power of God. Hildegard believed that the moister and greener a soul is, the more deeply it is connected to its sacred source. This image invites us to consider the dry spaces of our own souls that need the gift of vigour and life. Veriditas is like God’s love, energizing the world, making it living and fruitful. Hildegard believed that nothing exists without veriditas because nothing exists without God loving it and wanting it to exist. God’s love is known to us through the veriditas of God’s creatures – even through bowed down trees that open to the sun and rain. May your soul find veriditas in the nourishment of God’s greening power.
By Nancy Phillips