In the Presence of Trees

My earliest memory of trees is a large maple tree on the corner of my front yard. Its strong limbs reaching out from its branches was an invitation for a young boy to climb! I treasured my time in the maple tree. It was a place of quiet and “above-it-all.” It was a chance for the smallest and youngest Howard boy to look down upon things that I ordinarily looked up to- rooftops, street lights, and cars. While high in the maple tree, I lived with the insects that made the tree their world. Whatever fear I had of spiders, ants, and other crawling things disappeared while in their environment.

This reflection on trees is motivated from a visit to the Morton Arboretum I made last Friday. It was such a wonderful time of walking, exploring, and living in natural beauty and wonder.

Perhaps nature offers us an opportunity to connect with that part of us that just “is.” This is the part some call psyche, self, or soul. It is that elusive part of which we are always in pursuit, yet it escapes our ability to grasp, define, label, and control. It is also the part of us that wants desperately to be loved and accepted for who we are and the unique gifts we bring to the world. These gifts are hatched from curiosity and reach into life like the stretching of trees into the air and world.

And we are more than our gifts and accomplishments, more than our works and utilitarian value. There is a self who does not identify with what we have accomplished, and what we have failed to do. It does not connect with what we own, or what we have lost. The tree is a witness to this natural part of us that is so appreciative of just being alive and is overwhelmed by the simple pleasure of living another day.


John Fowles and Frank Hornet write in their book, Trees:

“There is something in the nature of nature, and its presentness, its seeming transience, its creative ferment and hidden potential, that corresponds very closely with the wild green (person) in our psyches.”

And trees are not always green. They change with the seasons. They turn from green to brown, and the leaves eventually fall, and they are bare. After leaving the arboretum, I went to sit with my dad who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. As I watch the leaves of his memory slowly fall, I see his life gradually becoming a bare tree. Yet even trees in autumn and winter exude beauty. David Whyte writes,
I wish I knew the beauty
Of leaves falling

To whom are we

Beautiful as we go?
In life and in death, we belong to God. The presence of God can be felt when we are elated and when we are low. God is with us in youth and old age. The love of God is the answer to the world’s thirsty soul and desire to be loved, forgiven, and accepted. May our church become a reflection of God’s radical welcome and witness, like a strong maple tree!

Rev. Craig Howard

(Photos attached)