Tree soul

The other evening, my arms warmly wrapped around a young oak in a local woodland, I was enjoying fleeting thoughts about the symbiotic relationship between trees and people, reciprocal exchanges of oxygen and carbon dioxide, and the new-ish discoveries of how trees communicate and experience sensations…when a man passed by with his dog.

The scene of the crime: where I was caught tree-hugging (pic taken the same evening)

“Oops, that was embarrassing, being caught tree-hugging!” I quipped.

“It’s OK – I get it,” the man replied briefly but reassuringly as he quickly carried on.

To be honest, I think many of us get it – the importance not only of our relationship with nature and the benefits of that relationship, but also of the realisation that we are part of (although also separate from) nature.

Wild rose

Even if we don’t all go around hugging trees as an expression of that unity.

Over the years I’ve received some heart-warming compliments for my (very) amateur nature photography on social media. One friend said, “Your pictures bring me joy.”

Brown argus
Brown Argus

I guess I hope that in some way, my photos, such as the ones included here, are not simply pretty pictures – or even photos that inspire a love for nature. Although that would be enough. But also that they somehow convey something of my own – and your – relationship with nature.

Iron Prom
Iron Prominent moth on my hand

One thing that I’ve learned, through meditating on creation and its Creator (and reading Richard Rohr!), is that God is not only expressed in every thing, but, being Trinity (i.e. ‘Relationship’), God is somehow even more present in the loving, reciprocal relationships between those things, between us, and in those relationships that we have with the world around us.

Tortoiseshell on mallow
Small Tortoiseshell and mallow

Rohr puts it like this:

When we love something, we grant it soul, we see its soul, and we let its soul touch ours. We must love something deeply to know its soul (anima). Before the resonance of love, we are largely blind to the meaning, value, and power of ordinary things to “save” us and help us live in union with the source of all being. In fact, until we can appreciate and even delight in the soul of other things, even trees and animals, we probably haven’t discovered our own souls either. Soul knows soul through love, which is why it’s the great commandment (Matthew 22:36).

Hannah poppies

Now, to me, that sounds like a great reason to keep on tree-hugging.

(All photos mine. All taken recently except the one of my daughter with the poppies, taken in 2014. And all say something about reciprocal relationships.)


Peace Like a…River?

Does ‘Stillness’ exist?

Stillness is one of the elements of contemplative prayer, as described by the Desert Mothers and Fathers of the third Century, modern mystics such as Henri Nouwen and Thomas Merton, and no doubt multitudes of other meditative writers[1].

When I retreat to the woods or fields to pray and relish the relinquishing of rush and endless requests, I stop and breathe in the relative Silence, the joyful relief of Solitude, and the restful sense of Stillness. Until…

I become aware of the sound of a flowing stream behind me.

Dolgoch Falls, Wales

The movements of nature all around.

The swaying of branches in the breeze.

A flitting wren. Or, if I’m lucky and in the right place, the vertical take-off of a skylark.

Skylark, Firle Beacon

And I start to wonder whether Stillness is actually a thing.

My awareness turns to my beating pulse. Signs of life flowing through my body. No stillness there (thank goodness!).

And, within all things, the crazy careering patterns of subatomic particles, which even quantum physicists are barely beginning to comprehend.

My thoughts then turn in the opposite direction, to the ever-expanding edges of the Universe.

And I realise that nothing, nothing, stands still.

And so I begin to understand why that ancient prophet, Isaiah, described the promise of ‘peace like a river’. Peace isn’t motionlessness, like a millpond. Peace flows.

Perhaps the peace or stillness we seek in contemplation and meditation is not always about a lack of movement, even of our wandering thoughts, but about accepting and even appreciating the rhythms of life in the relative stillness around and within us, and being prepared to go with that flow.

Maybe then, by carrying that acceptance within us, we will find renewed courage and strength to flow with the endless manic movements we face on return from contemplation to our busy worlds.

Dolgoch Falls, Wales

(All photos taken by me, but not copyright – feel free to use!)

[1] For further reading see, for example: Henri Nouwen’s Way of the Heart: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers

Champion Campion

The Red Campion, with its pink petals fusing together into a reddish, ribbed tube, has been quite stunning on the edges of our local woods this Spring. Especially one particular patch saturated with Campion, that catches the early morning sun on my dog-walks.

I had to go and take some photos.

And then some more photos.

It’s funny but I don’t remember seeing or noticing the Red Campion in previous years. Maybe it’s having a bumper year. Probably. But I also think I may have passed it by in former years, without giving it a second glance.

How often do we miss the wood for the trees? Fail to see the extraordinary in the so-called ‘ordinary’?

This morning, as I took communion, I was reminded that Jesus deliberately chose ‘elemental’ things (bread and wine) to serve as ‘sacraments’. The extraordinary in the ordinary. The spiritual in the material. Breaking any division between sacred and secular.

Mindfulness and meditation, whether with a Christian or Buddhist basis, or without any sort of spiritual slant, can help us connect or re-connect with nature and other things and people around us, with God and with ourselves.

Or perhaps rather to (re-)discover the interconnectedness of all things, that was always there. And to notice the wonder of all things.

Thank you, Red Campion, for the reminder.


You might also be interested in my book: Coming Home for Good (available on Amazon) is autobiographical, describing my journey out of spiritual, psychological and (chosen) physical homelessness into a spiritual, psychological and physical home and a career managing a homeless healthcare service.