The Contemplative Call to Nature
Grieving the Trees
Tuesday, April 20, 2021
Love and grief go hand in hand. Sometimes it is the deep grief we feel during loss that awakens us to the depth and sincerity of our love. As we witness the many ways the earth has been exploited and damaged beyond repair (particularly in our lifetimes), we must grieve and commit to show our love through conscious action. The Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas expresses her grief through prayer:
In times like these, our prayer may need to be expressive and embodied, visceral and vocal. How else can we pray with our immense anger and grief? How else can we pray about ecocide, about the death that humanity is unleashing upon Mother Earth and upon ourselves? How else can we break through our inertia and despair, so that we don’t shut down and go numb? . . . .
I’ve taken to praying outdoors. I go outside, feel the good earth beneath my feet and the wind on my face, and I sing to the trees—to oak and beech, hemlock and pines. Making up the words and music as I go along, I sing my grief to the trees that are going down, and my grief for so much more—for what we have lost and are losing, and for what we are likely to lose. I sing my outrage about these beautiful old trees being cut to the roots, their bodies chipped to bits and hauled away to sell. I sing my fury about the predicament we’re in as a species. I sing my protest of the political and corporate powers-that-be that drive forward relentlessly with business as usual, razing forests, drilling for more oil and fracked gas, digging for more coal, expanding pipeline construction, and opening up public lands and waters to endless exploitation, as if Earth were their private business and they were conducting a liquidation sale. I sing out my shame to the trees, my repentance and apology for the part I have played in Earth’s destruction and for the part my ancestors played when they stole land and chopped down the original forests of the Native peoples who lived here. I sing my praise for the beauty of trees and my resolve not to let a day go by that I don’t celebrate the precious living world of which we are so blessedly a part. I’m not finished until I sing my determination to renew action for trees and for all of God’s Creation. . . .
So our prayer may be noisy and expressive, or it may be very quiet. It may be the kind of prayer that depends on listening in stillness and silence with complete attention: listening to the crickets as they pulse at night, listening to the rain as it falls, listening to our breath as we breathe God in and breathe God out, listening to the inner voice of love that is always sounding in our heart. A discipline of contemplative prayer or meditation can set us free from the frantic churn of thoughts and feelings and enable our spirit to rest and roam in a vaster, wilder space.
Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, “Love Every Leaf,” in Rooted & Rising: Voices of Courage in a Time of Climate Crisis, eds. Leah D. Schade and Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, (Rowman & Littlefield: 2019), 175, 176–177.
Story from Our Community:
My home is just a mile from a mountain wilderness and since the pandemic began I’ve hiked solo 2-3 times per week. Walking in silence as a hawk circles, slowing down to observe sparkling dew on the grass, feeling the simple joy of my legs carrying me along a path of dirt and rock—these often bring me a deeper connection to the mystery we call God. I come home from these forays into nature feeling more whole, hopeful and human. —Peter L.