I love trees.
Especially I love old ones. In the park near where I live there are some fine ancient oaks which, by the size of their trunks, must have taken root centuries ago. I love their gnarled, pocked surfaces with their massive branches, some of which have been blown off in gales and others fallen away with age. They have stood sentient there for centuries, witnesses to ages past; through the reigns of the Charles’ and George’s, William’s and Victoria and so many more they are silent witnesses to the passage of time.
But what I admire about them is that they are simply there; they stand still, able to bend with the wind no matter how destructive it may be. They are just – being themselves – being trees. That’s all they can be yet in being what they are they have given pleasure to generations. Their innate beauty can be looked at or ignored for they do not need our gaze, just our respect. They are supported in the air by invisible roots thrust deep into the soil from where they draw their strength and energy, from which they are nurtured and nourished. No superficial, passing life for them. They know they need to be rooted for, if they are not, they will fall yet what is essential for them is invisible to the eye, as a little prince once observed.
You can notice so many trees, but how often do we really see a tree? When was the last time you looked at one, really looked at one? I only ask because, like trees, we can easily notice people without really seeing them – what is essential to them is invisible to the eye – just as we can take ourselves for granted. How often do we stop to reflect on the wonder of our being? Really see and value who we are? This book is intended to help you stop for a moment and wonder at this matter of being human. Millenia ago, when someone did just that, they went on to declare:
I thank you for the wonder of my being, for the wonders of all your creation
And if you raise your eye past the topmost branches of the trees and, at night, gaze on the sky above and around you I wonder if your sense of marvel might be aroused as you look upon the myriad of stars? What might you want to say as you contemplate the heavens? Possibly the same person who realised the wonder of their being all those years ago was also the one who wrote about the way that, when they considered the heavens, the moon and the stars which are set in their places, they then reflected on humanity and wondered – why. Are we, who make such a mess of things worth wondering at, worth being cared about? And the answer, of course, was ‘yes’.
Sadly, trees die. Sometimes of old age and, sometimes, because their tap root gets broken. I wonder if our society has become separated from our tap-root, the one reaching deep into the past which has been nourished by faith? Having traveled in other cultures where faith and belief is strong it’s interesting to hear how we are viewed by some, and how strong the poorest can be when they are rooted in faith. I recall hearing someone complain to me that westerners were worse than animals because we had lost faith – had jettisoned God. For them, to be human meant being a person of faith and to abandon that made us more to be pitied than the brute beasts.
Seeing behind the mask
But isn’t this business of being human about discovering a depth of being which connects us with the deepest streams of life? A few years ago, after a period of solitude, a person drove into their local town and noticed the people walking down the streets in a way he had not seen them before. Later he, wrote:
‘I have the immense joy of being man, a member of a race in which (I believe) God Himself became incarnate. As if the sorrows and stupidities of the human condition could overwhelm me, now I realize what we all are. And if only everybody could realize this! But it cannot be explained. There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the Sun.’
But how often do we let ourselves wonder at our being – and wonder, why? Why did I come into being? Am I just an accident, just the work of biological processes? Or am I the consequence of so much more – of all the care and attention, the love and compassion that has been shown me? Or not. Is my strength to be measured in how I live with weakness, my glory the way I own who I am ‘warts and all’? The wisdom of the ages tells us that to be fully human is to be able to accept myself just as I am, accept the truth of who I am when I am naked of whatever I clothe myself with and to know that I am loved with a passion that is greater than life.
What’s it all about?
I want to explore why we’re here and of being loved; to look at brokenness and loss and the need for compassion, respect and worth. To consider the gods of our age, of bread and circuses, and what really makes us rich; what it means to have worth and the way that insecurity can cripple us. To consider pain and suffering, success and failure. In the past people have looked to religion for help but, for many in the West, the tap-root of faith has been rejected, God seems dead and religion is for dummies. But I want to look deeper and see if what religion once offered for human well-being might still have something to offer 21st century western society. And to look at how Jesus might picture God for us and how his story might be timeless, just as those oaks in the woods have so much to give if only we would look at them with the eye of the heart.
Late have I loved you,
O Beauty ever ancient, ever new,
late have I loved you!
You were within me, but I was outside,
and it was there that I searched for you.
In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created.
You were with me, but I was not with you.
Created things kept me from you;
yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all.
You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness.
You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness.
You breathed your fragrance on me;
I drew in breath and now I pant for you.
I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more.
You touched me, and I burned for your peace.
(Augustine of Hippo)