Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Prayer Tree by Micheal Leunig


A person kneels to contemplate a tree and to
reflect upon the troubles and joys of life.

It is difficult to accept that life is difficult; that
love is not easy and that doubt and struggle,
suffering and failure, are inevitable for each
and every one of us.

We seek life's ease. We yearn for joy and
release, for flowers and the sun. And although
we may find these in abundance we also find
ourselves lying awake at night possessed by the
terrible fear that life is impossible. Sometimes
when we least expect it we wake up overwhelmed by a massive sense of loneliness,
misery, chaos and death: appalled by the
agony and futility of existence.

It is difficult indeed to accept that this
darkness belongs naturally and importantly to
our human condition and that we must live
with it and bear it. It seems so unbearable.

Nature, however, requires that we have the
darkness of our painful feelings and that we
respect it and make a bold place for it in our
lives. Without its recognition and acceptance
there can be no true sense of life's great depth,
wherein lies our capacity to love, to create and
to make meaning.

Nature requires that we form a relationship
between our joy and our despair, that they not
remain divided or hidden from one another.
For these are the feelings which must cross
pollinate and inform each other in order that
the soul be enlivened and strong. It is the soul,
after all, which bears the burden of our
experience. It is the soul through which we
love and it is the soul which senses most
faithfully our function within the integrity of
the natural world.

Nature requires that we be soulful and
therefore requires a dimension within us
where darkness and light may meet and know
each other. Mornings and evenings somewhere
inside, with similar qualities to the mornings
and the evenings of the earth. Qualities of
gradual but vast change; of stillness and
tender transference, fading and emerging,
foreboding and revelation.

Mornings and evenings: the traditional times
for prayer and the singing of birds, times of
graceful light whereby the heart may envisage
its poetry and describe for us what it sees.

But how do we find the mornings and evenings
within? How do we establish and behold them
and be affected by their gentle atmospheres and
small miracles? How do we enter this healing

The matter requires our imagination.
In particular, it requires the aspect of
imagination that we have to come to know as prayer.

We pray. We imagine our way inwards and
downwards and there, with heartfelt thoughts
or words we declare our fears and our
yearnings; we call out for love and forgiveness;
we proclaim our responsibility and gratitude.
The struggling, grounded soul speaks to the
higher spirit and thus we exist in the mornings
and the evenings of the heart: thus we are
affected and changed by the qualities we have
created within ourselves.

Might not prayer then be our most accessible
means to inner reconciliation; a natural
healing function in response to the pain of the
divided self and the divided world? Might not
prayerfulness (is this really a word?) be part of
our survival instinct belonging more to the
wilderness than to the church.

And just as we have become somewhat
alienated from nature and its cycles, could it
be that we are also estranged from our
instinctive capacity for prayer and need to
understand it afresh from the example of the
natural world?

A person contemplates a tree.

The tree sends its roots beneath the surface,
seeking nourishment in the dark soil: the rich
"broken down" matter of life.

As they reach down and search, the roots hold
the tree firmly to the earth.

Thus held and nourished, the tree grows
upwards into the light, drinking the sun and
air and expressing its truth: its branches and
foliage, its flowers and fruit. Life swarms
around and into it. Birds and insects teem
within its embrace, carrying pollen and seed.
They nest and breed and sing and buzz.
They glorify the creation.

The tree changes as it grows. It is torn by
wind and lightning, scarred by frost and fire.
Branches die and new ones emerge. The
drama of existence has its way with the tree
but still it grows; still its roots reach down into
the darkness; still its branches flow with sap
and reach upward and outward into the world.

A person kneels to contemplate a tree and to
reflect upon the troubles and joys of life. The
person imagines mornings and evenings in a
great forrest of prayers, swarming and teeming
with life.

The person is learning how to pray.

I will be posting some of the chapters from The Prayer Tree in the days to come, many of them are only five or six lines.

I first encountered this little book about ten years ago: I was aiming to catch the #23 southbound for my apartment in Standish when I saw it/when it saw me from a shelf just inside the door of Mager's and Quinn in Uptown. The reading of this book fit neatly between the start and the end of my bus ride. I was enraptured.

While I was reading, a man got on the bus (drunk? ill?) and sat right next to me.

The irony of what I was reading and this very strange-to-me man talking about being my friend was not lost. I think it was this moment I when I chose to engage with strangers at bus stops.

I hope we enjoy what we find here; your thoughts are welcome:)

The illustration was found at Paul Bellamy.

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