THE BLOG

I Talk to Trees: A Lenten Reflection

02/07/2013 05:07 pm ET | Updated Apr 09, 2013
  • Malcolm Boyd Bestselling author, 90-year-old gay elder and civil rights pioneer, Episcopal priest

The season of Lent portrays the dark night of the soul as a basic element in religious or spiritual experience. Psalm 51 says: "A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise." A basic element is that in Lent we are invited to remember that we are dust, and to dust shall we return. In writing these meditations I invoke the spirit of my book "Are You Running with Me, Jesus?" And as I approach my 90th birthday in June, I invite you to join me in a bit of Lenten meditating.

Yes, we're here again, the tree and I. This is such a holy place for me. i feel the closeness of the tree. My restlessness and inner turmoil fade in the presence of quiet serenity, prayerful security, peace and longevity. The tree is 300 years old. So it was here long before I came along. Clearly it will outlive me.

We don't get into traditiional or customary conversations. Trees, I've learned, don't use words. Actually I don't use them either while engaged in my silence-oriented conversation with the tree.

Its trunk seems sturdier than some belief systems. Its branches are hospitable and inviting. I'm aware of my age and accompanying collection of aches and pains. These are also litanies of anxiety that seem to have marked my being. The tree does not move. But I just did when I crossed my leg. Slowly, the tree quietly reminds me it has lived through every kind of season and vicissitude. It has accepted these with patience along with hot sun, cold wind and rain. So the tree is bearing witness to patience.

This brings up restlessness for me. I want to talk to the tree about this. How has it managed to survive the scary sensation of restlessness with obvious equanimity, surrender and acceptance? It does not answer me (of course). The tree and I are looking at one another closely. I am struck by its seamless memory and sense of peace. But the world -- in this moment of my own consciousness -- seems to hold so little peace! Seated here in reflection, I try to shut out stark and terrible images of torture, despair, rape, violence, chaos, murder, egomania, empire run amok and ruin.

I cannot shut them out. These images stun my vision.

The tree does not move. It simply remains here with me. The tree is wiser than I am, more of a survivor. The tree is obdurate, faithful to a fault, utterly experienced, obviously rooted in ways that I am not.

I see that I am (with the tree) a part of the world. A part of creation and its creatures, epiphanies and disasters, terrible pains and, yes, great joys. Gazing at the tree, I come to realize it isn't simple at all but is immensely complex. This gives us something to share. Its braches zigzag all over the place, devoid of any kind of neat pattern. This treed contradicts any easy formula for perfection. Many other trees are far more elegant, even stunning. This one isn't conventiionally attractive at all. On the other hand, I'd give it an A for character.

There is little or nothing sentimental about the tree. Its picture would never end up on a Hallmark card. It is plain, down-to-earth, unfussy. By its very exisence it makes the strongest possible statement. It is anchored here and now.

In another moment I won't be seated here anymore. I'll get up and move away. I hope I'll be back. Wouldn't that be great? To be with my good and old friend again. To share companionship and acceptance. To gather fresh strength. To sit quietly in unchangeable trust.