Heaven is declaring God’s glory;
the sky is proclaiming his handiwork.
One day gushes the news to the next,
and one night informs another what needs to be known.
Of course, there’s no speech, no words—
their voices can’t be heard—
but their sound extends throughout the world;
their words reach the ends of the earth.
Psalm 19: 1-4
I have been posting brief reflections on what I hear trees say. Yet “say” is the wrong word, for, of course, trees do not speak the English language, which is the only one I know well.
Language is a rather recent invention in the story of life on earth. With or without words, communication occurs with and among all species. We affect each other deeply – interpenetrating, colonizing, living off, consuming, giving ourselves away, and taking in each other in an intricate network of dynamic, everchanging relationships. Our destinies are connected to each other and together we form the body of life on our shared planet.
Yet our species has been steadily backing away from many of our cousins. Cities, industry, and technology have increasingly allowed us to dissociate ourselves from our dance of interdependency with fish, fowl, insect, animal, vegetable, and mineral – a dance, which we can never really escape.
For many humans language has become, not a tool of communion, understanding, and edification, but, rather, a knife which separates our experience of reality into sharp, hard slivers of “meaning,” with which we stab and poke each other. Words, mere symbols, which only point toward reality or ideas or emotions, become swords of power to weld against the powerless and attempt to force our view on others. We build idols of abstract constructs and tottering paradigms of what we believe is The Truth, which we then feel constrained to defend and guard against all contradiction.
I do not know how to listen to trees, to frogs, to polar bears, or whales. I do not know how to listen to the woman who has lost her home and family in the flood, or the old pastor who told me I was not ready to be preaching and needed to read a lot more books, and then walked out of my presentation. I do not know how to listen to my friend who has a tumor growing in her brain and has chosen to forego further treatment.
I only know I have to try. And that language is only secondary- a pale, feeble gesture – bound to miss its mark much of the time. Primary is that inexpressible intimate connection, where I am touched by and touch into the miraculous life of the spider catching flies on my windowsill, the old preacher I offended, and the aspen leaves twisting in the wind.
It is there – as life meets life and bows before and honors this mysterious, energetic vitality of Being in all that is, that I know once again that I belong. Here is my community. I see how we have been created to need one another and are bound together by a strange and marvelous Love.
Even when my words and efforts fail, and I suffer the isolation and estrangement of broken communication or connection, I am grateful. That pain shows me how we are wedded and welded as one in the very formation of the universe. When that bond is broken, we will always mourn. The pain reminds us that there is more, that we could be more, and that love is refined through its failures.
Moreover, some bit of life is always sending out roots, tentacles, or tendrils, a claw, a paw, or a hand. We have only to open our fists in order to make a new connection.
I have been telling you what trees said to me. For this post it is your turn to tell me and those who follow this blog what you hear from the trees.
Here is how:
Watch and walk among the trees in the video below. Or go outside and listen to some trees where you live. Receive what they are “saying.” Take your time. Do not hasten to come up with words. Just be open and expectant. Allow the words to come as they will. Then share in the comments what you “heard,” so we all may learn from you and know the joy of our connection. I can’t wait to hear what the trees tell you!
You can find out more about the fellow who made this and other wonderful nature videos and photography here: Colorado Guy Oh, and he does spiritual direction too!
Joyce Shupe paints, takes photos, and makes pottery in Holton, Kansas. See some of her work, along with the work of other artists here.