Be Like Trees

I live in a maple-pine ecosystem with many sugar maples, with maple syrup a popular product at the farmer’s markets.  This is an excerpt from a reflection on the wonder of maple trees.

Soak up the sun
Affirm life’s magicDSCN4690
Be graceful in the wind
Stand tall after a storm
Feel refreshed after it rains
Grow strong without notice
Be prepared for each season
Provide shelter to strangers
Hang tough through a cold spell
Emerge renewed at the first signs of spring
Stay deeply rooted while reaching for the sky
Be still long enough to
hear your own leaves rustling.
Karen I. Shragg
Scott Russell Sanders, an American essayist and naturalist, once wrote: “It occurs to me that meditation is an effort to become for a spell more like a tree, open to whatever arises, without judging, without remembering the past or anticipating the future, fully present in the moment. The taste of that stillness refreshes me.  When we surface from meditation, however, we are not turning from reality to illusion, as some spiritual traditions would have us believe; we are reclaiming the full powers of mind, renewed by our immersion in the realm of mountains and rivers, wind and breath.”

The full powers of mind.  This is one of the strengths of our faith as Unitarian Universalists. We come together seeking transcendence – and knowledge – in both science and spiritual traditions.  We become like trees and we learn from trees. Like Madonna, we know we live in a material world, so we seek to pay attention to the everyday, like a sugar maple in spring.  As UUs, we explore, celebrate, and struggle with that tension of living both on the earth and within the mystery. We follow Earth Scholar Thomas Berry, who said:  “The universe, the solar system, and the planet earth in themselves and in their evolutionary emergence constitute for the human community the primary revelation of that ultimate mystery whence all things emerge into being.” 

The earth and the mystery – the yin and yang that frame our faith – are intertwined.  We are grateful for both.

We are grateful for the wondrous presence of maple trees.

The Web of Connection

This is an excerpt from a recent sermon.

 I grew up in a Mississauga suburb during the seventies of star wars and disco dancing, learning the metric system on new blue rulers.
In Art class, we were taught rug hooking on cushion covers and macramé plant hangers.
In grade six we learned another great folk art – String Art.
You take a piece of wood, cover it in felt, and then hammer nails into it.
You then wind brightly coloured crochet thread around the nails weaving a pattern.  I used a grass green felt, then wound bright pink, yellow and orange thread – it was the seventies – around the nails to create a webbed circle with an empty centre.
The string art lived on a shelf in my bedroom for years as a bright and joyful weave of colour.

It is only now, with the string art itself long gone, that I realize that image – the webbed circle – has stayed with me,  evolving from a goofy grade six art project to a symbol of my religious orientation.

The web of connection is the way of the universe.
We are all connected.
The universe is an endless series of connections –all the elements of life in dynamic interplay.
Moons orbit planets, planets swirl madly around suns,
solar systems whirl into galaxies, and galaxies coalesce into groups.
It is all, we are all, in glorious motion.

As a family we like to camp.  When it gets very dark my son and I will head off to an open area.  Then we lie back and look up into the night sky covered in stars.  It is always so beautiful. It also reminds me of just how small I am.

I am small compared to our planet.
Our planet is small compared to the gas giant Jupiter.
Jupiter is small compared to our sun.
And our giant blazing sun is tiny compared to the Red Giants.

We are a speck on a speck on a speck of dust in comparison to the rest of the universe.
Looking into the starry night, looking out into the mysteries of the universe, I can feel we are tiny and insignificant.  It is awesome in the original sense of the word – inspiring awe and dread.
It is both terrific and terrible, humbling to be such a tiny little part of an immense whole.
And it is also wonderful.
To know that as small as we are, we are still part of the whole.
We belong to it deeply, dependently.
Not just as part of the web of ecology where we live.
We are part of all of it, earth, the solar system, the galaxy, the universe, the whole enchilada.
Almost all the atoms in our bodies were born in the heat of a star billions and billions of years before we were born.

The stars are our ancestors, the root of our family tree.
Stars as ancestors.  Imagine that.  Joni Mitchell was right,
we really are stardust.  We are stardust.
We are golden.  This is scientific knowledge.
This science doesn’t diminish the mystery and beauty of the world,
it deepens it.  My skin, my blood, my flesh, is made of atoms born 13 billion years ago.
So is yours.  We are, as astronomer Carl Sagan said, starstuff contemplating the stars.

We are all connected.  The universe is a web of connections.

Contemporary Unitarian Universalism attempts to live out that understanding of connection between all beings.