This week I am staying with one photo in particular as a source of meditation. It is of a prayer tree on a Colorado mountain top. This is a tree considered holy by the Ute native American people and made so by tying it down so that it grows parallel to the ground for a while such that the tree points in one direction with its body – like Jesus did. The image seems provocative to me and I cannot seem to let go of it this week.
The tree is an icon to what goes on in me throughout the day. The American Indian people who formed this now ancient tree took their cues from nature. As they hiked and walked, camped and celebrated life. They saw the Holy in the living things around them. They understood, in ways we city-dwellers have at times lost, that the divine is in constant co-creativity. That is why stewardship of our possessions, our time and our money is so vitally important. Stewardship is not just a term we trot out in the Fall in order to guilt people into making a gift to the church so that we have a budget. Stewardship is right-relationship with God and the material around us.
I think this tree means so much to me and so sticks in my craw because as we work hard to design materials and experiences which we hope will teach people how to reconsider their giving to the church, we are immensely hopeful that we can do with brochures and sermons, kick-off events and closing celebrations, liturgical additions and pledge cards what the Ute indians have done with this tree. They took an average, every-day tree. They picked one out of thousands. They molded it so that it did something powerful – pointed to the Holy. They used a very common thing to remind passers by that there is nothing common at all about a planet of blue and green among millions of life-less, floating spherical rocks in the cosmos. They made something bent and twisted so that it was shocking to the passer-by. They took a tree and made it into a shocking wake-up call to the Holy.
Every day we Canons and Dean and a few faithful parishioners of the Cathedral gather in the St. Martin Chapel for morning prayer at 8:30 and evening prayer at 5:00 (well most days – yesterday I sort of was late to one and worked through the other – but I am a very, very bad example – most days we do this and do it faithfully.) We gather and say psalms, read prayers and hope for God to unveil God’s dwelling amongst us. We pray for the diocese, our Bishop, our diocesan churches and her clergy.
I imagine a Ute mother or father with a child under this bent tree. They tell their child to look down the length of the tree and see the pointing -place – the Holy Mountain towards which it points. They see their child’s eyes get big in wonder and hope. “Can we go there one day?” the child says, not realizing that, in a way, the longing is the going. As we say our prayers twice a day in the chapel for a decaying American church of 2 million faithful people, dying slowly of old age, we are aware that only the pockets of effectiveness and kindness will survive this spiritual ice-age into which we are emerging.
The church is not unlike the mountain top on which this tree sits. It is wind-swept. It is rocky. It is dry and old, jagged and harsh. But it also has pockets of new growth – a wild flower here – a tree emerging from a split rock there. And in the middle of it; a bent tree pointing to Holy. “Can we go there?’ we say in our prayers as we jump into our cars or ride trains to work.
“You just did.” says the One who exists in the Holy Place, the One about to kiss the back of our neck as we turn the key to our car. What points to the Holy Places? Everything. Especially the bent things. And all the while God rejoices at our longing.