Our Teachers The Trees

Source: wikipedia.com

In Letter 101 to Henri Murdoch, abbé de Vanclair, St. Bernard of Clairvaux writes;   “We learn more in the woods than in books.  The trees and the rocks will teach you more things than you could hear from anywhere else”.  I am gradually discovering just how true this is.

For a number of years early in October at the beginning of the Forty Day Institute I have been giving a talk on God Creating.  The first time I was to give this talk it seemed important to spend time being out on the land as the final last minute preparation for my presentation.

As I stood amidst some familiar trees it seemed appropriate to listen for a message for the program participants, and to my great surprise there was a clear response; “Tell them we love them”.  Thus it became my habit to visit some of our trees each year just before I was to give this talk, and so far I have not been disappointed.

On one occasion I could hear the leaves and the wind whispering to each other and see the branches gently swaying to the wind’s rhythms.  I seemed to hear the message; “Tell them to listen and let the Spirit move them”.

The following year as it was raining softly I heard; “Just be there and let God’s grace, God’s love like this rain pour over you and soak into your souls”.  Another time I heard; “be still, rooted in the earth of God’s love and be aware of God delighting in you”.

More recently, the moment I step out of our office door a great silver maple proclaimed; “Celebrate!” which is something it continues to do just for me each day as I approach the office door.  As these yearly talks continued I was beginning to wonder if I was being presumptuous in always expecting a clear message; however I was assured and deeply consoled as I entered a favorite grove of white pine to my surprise they called me by name; “Hi Bill”.

Now people may be thinking this is all in my imagination.  To this I can only respond that St. Ignatius strongly encourages the use of imagination in prayer. Furthermore, when Joan of Arc was on trial her accusers were saying; “All these messages that you claim to be hearing from God are only in your imagination”.  Without hesitation Saint Joan replied; “Of course they are in my imagination; how else could God speak to me.”

So yes these messages through God’s precious creatures are all in my imagination; how else could they speak to me?

Bill Clarke, SJ, is a member of the team of spiritual directors at Loyola House of Ignatius Jesuit Centre of Guelph and continues his commitment to L'Arche.

  • Peter Bisson
    Posted at 03:00h, 06 November Reply

    Thank you Bill!

  • John Montague
    Posted at 06:31h, 06 November Reply

    When I did the forty days at Guelph in May 1993 I remember witnessing the blossoms come out on some of your bushes. They were stunning examples of God’s grandeur. They only lasted a few weeks, so i remember them as an apparition. Aquinas’s proof of God’s existence through creation resonates with me. Only a divine landscape architect could produce such masterpiece.

  • Karen Arthurs
    Posted at 08:31h, 06 November Reply

    Love your ‘tree’ story. One of nature’s greatest creations through which God speaks.

  • Jeannette Filthaut SP
    Posted at 09:01h, 06 November Reply

    Thank you Bill. I too believe the trees speak to us in profound and gentle ways, even in the stormy days. On our Motherhouse grounds, our aging trees are truly telling us Sisters of our own aging reality. We have recently lost many of our trees. Some of the ones over 100 years old are speaking loudly of the “letting go” and younger ones planted in the year 2000 + are still birthing new growth and fruit. Providence has its design for all of us as we listen to these wonderful trees that have blessed us on our property. With Gratitude, Jeannette Filthaut SP

  • Paul Baker
    Posted at 10:45h, 06 November Reply

    Thanks Bill. What a great read! Love the spirituality that welcomes trees, creeks and rocks in creeks to speak to us in our imagination. Only yesterday I walked with Beauty through the forest floor of my favourite nature trail at Manresa, Pickering, Ontario. In my last two years at the Jesuit Infirmary, the numerous and varied trees of my Forest Walk have become my closest friends and I take much joy and delight in their friendship. I cannot go wrong walking with Beauty for Beauty knows his/her Trees.

  • Charles Pottie Pate
    Posted at 11:18h, 06 November Reply

    thanks Bill, wonderful reflection….. of course, God speaks to us through our imagination…..!

  • Glenn Inglis
    Posted at 16:51h, 06 November Reply

    Thank you, Bill! I was in the group that gathered in October ’17 and I vividly remember your opening words: asking that maple for a theme and it was Celebrate! I have a confession – I am a Presbyterian much schooled in dogmatics and rational discourse. I thought to myself, “What on earth is this all about?” Well, it was about the earth and also a wonderful 20 minute tour from the dawn of creation to the present. I was impressed.
    Those 40 days drew me into a deeper relationship with trees and especially one squirrel that chatted with me most days.
    I remember a few chats with you, Bill, and deeply appreciate your love for God, Creation and us!
    Glenn Inglis, Sechelt, BC

  • Rosemary McGinn
    Posted at 19:52h, 08 November Reply

    Thank you Bill,for that wonderful message on Trees.My Dad was a lumberman all his life,and shared stories of trees and how much they teach us about Life.I recall my walks in Guelph amongst the trees,and the gracefilled moments,they gave me shelter. Blessings Rosemary McGinn.

  • Lorella D'Cruz
    Posted at 07:23h, 21 November Reply

    As Shakespeare himself said, “And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
    Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
    Sermons in stones, and good in everything.”

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