Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
Opening Words The Sacredness of Trees by Cliff Reed
In the middle of an oak grove,
with trees of a few years old and trees of centuries,
feel the sacredness, the everlasting power
of the life around you,
and know the transitory nature of your own.
The ancient druids, so it’s said,
performed their secret rites in oak groves.
We don’t know what they did
– which may be just as well –
but they found sacredness
among those ancient trees,
and so do we.
Chalice Lighting (you may wish to light a candle in your own home at this point. I will be lighting my chalice for worship at 11.00 am on Sunday morning) words by Jane Blackall.
May the light of this chalice be a reminder of the
shared values and principles around which we gather:
upholding the inherent worth and dignity of every person;
cherishing all those diverse creatures and habitats
with whom we share this Earth, our home;
seeking human liberation and flourishing;
serving the common good of all.
May this little light, and all it represents, make a home in our hearts;
where it will ever guide us back to our highest aspirations,
and help us be responsive, creative, just, and loving,
in this complex and ever-changing world.
Spirit of Life and Love,
Be with us as we gather for worship,
Each in our own place.
Help us to feel a sense of community,
Even though we are physically apart.
Help us to care for each other,
In this world in which Covid has not yet gone away,
And the clouds of war hover.
May we keep in touch however we can,
And help each other,
However we may.
Help us to be grateful for the freedoms we have
and to respect the wishes of others.
May we hold in our hearts all those
Who are grieving, lost, alone,
Suffering in any way,
Reading Consider the Life of Trees by Cedric Wright, from Earth Prayers edited by Elizabeth Roberts and Elias Amidon (adapted)
Consider the life of trees.
Aside from the axe, what trees acquire from man is inconsiderable.
What man may acquire from trees is immeasurable.
From their mute forms there flows a poise, in silence,
a lovely sound and motion in response to wind.
What peace comes to those aware of the voice and bearing of trees!
Trees do not scream for attention.
A tree has no pretence, only a real growth out of itself,
in close communion with the universal spirit.
A tree retains a deep serenity.
It establishes in the earth not only its root systems,
but also those roots of its beauty and its unknown consciousness.
Sometimes, one may sense a glisten of that consciousness,
and with such perspective,
feel that man is not necessarily
the highest form of life.
Alternative Lord’s Prayer
Spirit of Life and Love, here and everywhere,
May we be aware of your presence in our lives.
May our world be blessed.
May our daily needs be met,
And may our shortcomings be forgiven,
As we forgive those of others.
Give us the strength to resist wrong-doing,
The inspiration and guidance to do right,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
We are your hands in the world; help us to grow.
May we have compassion for all living beings,
And receive whatever life brings,
With courage and trust.
Reading from The Wisdom of the Oak Tree from Celtic Prayers and Practices by David Cole
The ancient Celts honoured all trees, but the oak was particularly meaningful. The oak is strong in its stature and roots. It has a sturdy trunk, far-reaching branches and, like all trees, is obedient to the seasons. Unlike many other trees, however, its roots reach as deep as its branches stretch high….
The oak has inner strength. It is what’s called a “pioneer tree,” a tree that can thrive in rough or hard soil, since its inner strength gives it a greater chance of survival….
The oak is patient. It is one of the later-leafing trees. In the spring, while other trees are leafing and flowering, it waits graciously and patiently for its time. Sometimes, oaks even leaf twice, once in the late spring or early summer, and then again in the late summer or early autumn, to generate longer periods of leaf.
Often we too are called to wait. The Divine has plans for us, plans for our flourishing – but in time, Divine time. The Divine Presence moves to the rhythm of eternity, not at the speed of the modern world.
Prayer by Hagen Hasselbalch, from Earth Prayers edited by Elizabeth Roberts and Elias Amidon (adapted)
Spirit of Life and Love,
Let there be peace, welfare and righteousness
in every part of the world.
Let confidence and friendship prevail
for the good of east and west,
for the good of the needy south,
for the good of all humanity.
Let the people inspire their leaders,
helping them to seek peace by peaceful means
helping them and urging them
to build a better world:
a world with a home for everybody,
a world with food and work for everybody,
a world with spiritual freedom for everybody.
Let those who have the power of money
be motivated by selfless compassion –
let money become a tool
for the good of humankind.
Let those who have power
deal respectfully with the resources of the planet.
Let them respect and maintain
the purity of the air, water, land, and subsoil.
Let them co-operate to restore
the ecological soundness of Mother Earth.
Let trees grow up by the billions
around the world.
Let green life invade the deserts.
Let industry serve humanity
and produce waste that serves nature.
Let technology respect
the holiness of Mother Earth.
Let those who control the mass media
contribute to create mutual understanding,
contribute to create optimism and confidence.
Let ordinary people
meet by the millions across the borders.
Let them create a universal network
of love and friendship.
Let billions of human beings
co-operate to create a good future
for their children and grandchildren.
Let us survive
In peace and harmony with Mother Earth.
Reading from The Wisdom of the Oak Tree from Celtic Prayers and Practices by David Cole
The oak grows in a rhythmic cycle and knows its limits. It produces acorns most years, but in years when it has not gained enough energy, it does not. It produces in abundance every seven years, conserving its energy in a rhythmic cycle.
The Divine Presence flows through the natural world in a rhythm. Each living thing has its own unique rhythm, even as it moves to the rhythm of the whole of creation….
The oak is hospitable. Of all trees, the oak houses the largest variety of creatures and other life (like fungi and creeping plants). Its hospitality to many visitors is also of infinite benefit to the tree. Even in death, oak trees continue to nourish the living community around them….
The oak lends itself to many uses. Of all the hard woods, the oak is the most versatile, able to be used for many things. It is easily cut and pliable (it bends well) – and yet, in all it does, it always keeps its strength. It is also used in a variety of herbal remedies for good health.
Time of Stillness and Reflection The Tree: A guided meditation by Jon Small (adapted)
I want you to sit back comfortably in your seat, rest your feet firmly on the floor and relax.
Start with your face, close your eyes and relax your face muscles – now your neck and shoulders – let them sag, be comfortable.
Your back and tummy muscles are next – let them go.
Think of your thigh and calf muscles – and let them ease.
Finally, your feet, your arms and hands – wiggle your toes and fingers and settle them down.
Now staying with your feet, imagine roots growing out of the soles of your feet and anchoring you firmly to the ground like a tree.
Now you are fully relaxed and grounded I want you to imagine you ARE a tree, a deciduous tree – standing in the middle of a field – anywhere YOU feel comfortable with.
It is autumn, your leaves have largely fallen to the ground around you.
The sun is weaker, the sky often grey and it rains.
Imagine that time is moving very fast for you. For all we know a tree’s sense of time could be totally different – for trees can live for so long.
Now the air is sharper and brighter and most of your fallen leaves have become mulch and been absorbed into the ground around your trunk.
Soon the ground is lost under a coating of snow and everything is much brighter now.
Most birds fled some time ago and there is little animal life around.
Occasionally a fox will scuttle through the snow, but little else, even the insects and other invertebrates that live in the great city that is you – have ceased their activities.
You are alone, apart from the other trees, stark and bleak against the landscape, you doze away the winter months.
The snow goes and rain comes again and warmth from the Sun. You begin to come alive and make leaves to grow and live fully again.
The insects run about you, mate, lay eggs and a new generation of little ones is born. A bird builds a nest in your branches and soon there is the constant squeaking of chicks clamouring for worms.
The field goes from a muddy brown to a mass of tiny green shoots for the farmer has been about his Spring business.
The year warms on the green shoots grown tall and you see tiny mice amongst them, hunted by the owls that sometimes roost in your branches.
Now it is Summer – as hot as it can be and some of the sugars you make in your leaves from the Sun’s gift and the air and soil go to make your seeds so you too can live on through another tree in the future.
The crop is golden now, echoing the colour of the Sun, then the farmer comes with his machines and cuts it leaving only the stubble for the mice to scurry through and the birds to glean the fallen grain.
Now it rains again and soon the field is a muddy mess once more as the farmer ploughs up the stubble ready for another year.
The birds begin, with their young, to leave once more and the insects start to slow down their activities. It grows quiet once more and your leaves begin to turn yellow, red and brown as the Sun’s energy wanes.
You settle down to another season of dozing through the winter knowing that come the Spring the whole cycle will be repeated again.
Now I would like you to stay grounded, but come back to being humans once more. Let your ‘roots’ withdraw back into your feet, remain relaxed, open your eyes and return to our normal place and time rate.
Earth’s my body,
Water’s my blood,
Air’s my breath,
And fire’s my spirit.
Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address The Wisdom and Sacredness of Trees
The Turkish poet, Nazim Hikmet, once wrote, “Living like a tree, single and free, but fraternally, like a forest, that is our longing.”
Trees, it seems, have found the right balance between solitude and community. Each is splendidly alone (at least above ground), but also together in community. Scientists now believe that trees can communicate with each other through their root systems. We humans are social creatures, and during the long periods of lockdown which Covid brought us, dealing with solitude was difficult for many (to say the least). Because while “meeting” via Zoom or Skype or FaceTime helped, it was no substitute for face-to-face interaction. Or at least, so I found.
Widely spread visits to my best friend in Cumbria helped enormously. Of course, we had to keep our distance from each other, only sharing a brief hug immediately following our morning showers. But we were able to sit at opposite corners of her living room and talk and laugh together. Which made me realise how much I had missed face-to-face friendships. I was there again, just last week, and it was such a joy to be able to interact properly, with no distance to maintain. After the distancing of lockdown, I have learned to appreciate the splendour of being in community, of sharing the sunlight of good conversation.
Yet being alone is not the same as being lonely. Or it need not be. To continue the tree analogy: when we are alone, we can draw nourishment from the roots of our being, from books and meditation and time spent in solitude. I derived great spiritual nourishment from walking alone in Salcey Forest each day during the worst of the various lockdowns, and truly appreciated being in among the trees, which I do perceive as sacred. My daily walks meant I was able to watch them going through their annual cycle of the budding and new growth and blossom of spring, through the full-leaved glory of summer, and the fruits of autumn, before their leaves started to change colour and fall. In the winter, I gloried in their splendid nakedness, their bare branches silhouetted against the sky.
And the joy has not been lessened by repetition. Over the past decade or so, I must have posted hundreds of photos on Facebook of beautiful trees, because their beauty fills my heart with wonder and gratitude, that I live on the same planet. For me, they represent the glory of God made manifest in creation – and I consider them sacred for that reason. When I walk in the forest, I feel a great sense of peace steal into my soul, especially if the sun is shining. There is something very special about being surrounded by other living things, all going about their business with no regard for humankind. I walk in the forest at all seasons and am filled with awe at the beauty around me. Whether it is the sky with its endlessly changeful patterns of clouds, the birds filling the air with their calls, or the glory of the trees themselves, walking there makes me feel grounded, at one with the world.
I feel at peace when I am walking among trees. Kahlil Gibran, author of The Prophet, once wrote, “Trees are poems that the earth writes in the sky.” When I read those words, my heart soared in recognition. Because that is exactly the feeling I get when I walk in Salcey and see the trees outlined against the sky, whether that sky is blue or grey or golden or red and purple. Each tree is unique, whether it is in its prime, or a young sapling, or an old tree somehow clinging to life, finding the strength to bring forth new growth each Spring. As Tolkien wrote in The Lord of the Rings, “some as different as one tree is from another of the same name but quite different growth and history; and some as different as one tree-kind from another, as birch from beech, oak from fir.”
Apart from Salcey, my other favourite place also has some wonderful trees. Last June, we spent a week in our favourite part of Wales and visited Dolgoch Falls, as we always do. Dolgoch is such a beautiful place – the stream chuckles and gurgles alongside the path, and sparkles in the sunshine. The water is incredibly clear and it is possible (had one but worlds enough and time) to count the stones on the stream bed. The path is now reasonably well-maintained, if criss-crossed with tree roots, and there are slabs of slate set over the many small tributaries that cross it on their way to the stream. Beautiful, mature, mainly deciduous trees line the ravine, going back quite a distance, as well as ubiquitous ferns, which add a level of lush verdancy to the landscape and their own distinctive scent. Which means that a walk there is in the midst of gorgeous greenery, with dappled sunlight shining through the leaf canopy. Many of the stones and trees are covered with a fine moss, like a green velvet cloak. There are a few dark cave openings alongside the path, which used to lead to old mine workings, but are now closed off. Above all, it is an incredibly peaceful place. As soon as I am through the gate which leads to Lower Falls, I can feel the peace of the Falls descend on me like a soft blanket.
In our final two readings this morning, I shared David Cole’s reflection on the wisdom of the oak tree. And like him, I believe that trees have much to teach us. He mentions their inner strength, that they are able to thrive in most soils. Which is something that many of us find difficult. During the first half of the 1980s, I lived in either Birmingham or London and found myself starving for “proper green”. I could not adapt myself to city life. Even now, although I enjoy spending the odd day in London, I am always, always glad to be back home in the countryside again.
He also mentions their patience, reminding us that “Often we too are called to wait. The Divine has plans for us, plans for our flourishing – but in time, Divine time. The Divine Presence moves to the rhythm of eternity, not at the speed of the modern world.” I am not one of the world’s most patient people, so I find it useful to be reminded that the “rhythm of eternity” is not the same as human time. Which is why I love the famous quote from the Book of Ecclesiastes, which says, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” Which sentiment has much in common with Taoism, whose followers are urged to go with the flow of the Tao, rather than believing they know best. When I can remember that, live that way, I am much happier.
David Cole also mentions the hospitality of the oak tree, saying that they are “home” to many natural species, whether animal or vegetable. And that, even when they have died, “oak trees continue to nourish the living community around them.” I believe that this is within reach of human beings too. Because if we live our lives well, and spend our time on earth looking out for other people rather than only thinking of number one, we too may be able to leave behind us a legacy of service which will benefit and nourish our own communities.
We also need to learn to take care of the plants and animals on our blue-green planet. Without trees in particular, as we heard in the beautiful words of Cedric Wright, which formed our first reading, our planet would be very much worse off. As he wrote, “What man may acquire from trees is immeasurable… What peace comes to those aware of the voice and bearing of trees.” He also speaks of their “deep serenity”, their “close communion with the universal spirit.”
Not to mention the fact that, without trees, our air quality would be hugely worse, because trees convert carbon dioxide into oxygen through photosynthesis. The people who speak of trees and forests as “the lungs of the Earth” are not far wrong. So trees not only help our mental health by sharing their serenity with us, but also our physical health by sharing their oxygen with us.
These are just some aspects of the wisdom and sacredness of trees. If our children and our children’s children are to share these benefits, it is our duty as concerned human beings to care for the rapidly decreasing number of trees around us, do our part to reverse that decline, and be mindful of our many debts to the natural world. We only have one planet and we’re coming perilously close to damaging it beyond repair. Let us do what we can where we are.
May it be so.
Spirit of Life and Love,
May we become aware of
the wisdom and sacredness of trees,
and may we take care of them,
not only for themselves as sacred parts of creation,
but also so that they are able to nourish
the bodies and spirits of the next generations.
May we return to our everyday world refreshed,
may we share the love we feel,
may we look out for each other,
and may we keep up our hearts,
now and in the days to come, Amen
Postlude Lady of Lewesdon Hill by Elizabeth Harley