In St. Catherine of Sienna’s Dialogues, I’ve read that she pictures the spiritual life as a large tree.
She says that the trunk of the tree is love. The core of the tree (the middle part that gives the tree its life) is patience. The roots of the tree are self-knowledge. The branches are discernment.
And I’ve wondered, if I were to paint it, what does the “tree” of my spiritual life look like? A tall and shadow-casting oak? A shimmering, quaking Aspen? A shade-filled, drooping willow?
I imagine the branches of my discernment twisting and turning –sometimes with purpose, sometimes by accident, sometimes only through careful pruning– towards the Light. I think about the bark of my tree…some of it the torn and ragged bark of the river birch, in other areas smooth and glossy like the white bark of the paper birch, and still other parts filled with the deep grooves of heartbreak that we can only know from daring to love in the first place.
I think, too, about the roots. No doubt, in quieter, darker times, my roots have grown deep and long, but after the pain of a transplant, inevitably it is with rapid adaptation that my roots skim the shallow surface and grow wide, too broken and raw from being “uprooted” to dare to “go deep” again for a while.
And with that thought I’m reminded of another element. One that is not in St. Catherine’s mediation, but that is an active part of my own. It was a thought my in-laws shared with me once after a very inspiring sermon at their church. The sermon was about the building of the artificial biosphere and how, in it, researchers were able to emulate and recreate nearly every single situation from the natural earth…with one exception.
There was a problem with the trees.
They kept falling over.
Do you know why?
As the sermon went, it was because they couldn’t properly generate enough wind to strengthen the trees.
Close your eyes and think about that for a while.
And as the trees all around us begin to bloom and grow, keep in mind that much like our own spiritual journeys, the trees would never be as tall, never as strong, and (arguably) never as beautiful …if it weren’t for the wind.