Message from the Tree
You probably have heard of Brother Lawrence. His original name was Nicolas Herman. He was born in France around 1614. Coming from a very poor family, he joined the military so that he could be assured of meals and a meager income. He fought in the thirty-year war (1618-1648) that engulfed most countries of Europe within the period. Sustaining a serious injury, he left the military and served as a valet. He was so dissatisfied with his life that he decided to join the Discalced Carmelites in Paris as a lay brother since he didn’t have enough education to be a priest. But even that did not bring satisfaction to his life. He took the name Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection. But then, one winter, the eyes of his heart opened, and he saw a tree stripped bare of its leaves. Then he began to see how this totally naked, dry and apparently dead tree would bloom with life at springtime. It came to him with such divine clarity that God providentially cares for his creation with tender love and power. Secondly, it dawned on him that the tree lives because it is deeply and securely rooted in something other than itself. He realized that he could worry himself to death about his life: his lacks, desires, ambitions, weaknesses, awkwardness, failures, imperfections, and sins, but that would not lead him anywhere. The secret of life is to be rooted in God, and live in His presence all the time, and in every detail of one’s life.
From that moment of divine light, Brother Lawrence decided to follow the Light of God. He was determined to live in the presence of God every minute of his life: when he cooked, scrubbed floors, swept the compound, removed snow, chatted with fellow friars, prayed officially, and ate, with friends or alone! We are surrounded by God’s presence. His work at the priory was in the kitchen, cooking and cleaning, and obeying his superiors. But in all this and through all this, he developed a keen sense of God’s presence and constantly conversed with God. He became a spiritual guide to many people. After his death, his conversations and spiritual guidance to people came to be published in the famous title: The Practice of the Presence of God. A book said to be the most widely read after the bible by people of various religious affiliations.
The two messages from the tree need to be taken to heart: God takes care of his children with such tender power and providence; and, the secret life of the tree is that it is rooted in something other than itself. These two messages point to us the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It is the Holy Spirit that reminds us constantly that God cares and is with us; and if we truly follow the nudges and inspirations of the Holy Spirit, we will be securely rooted in our lives, so that whatever and whoever we encounter, whatever our experiences may be, will always lead us closer to God and to the realization of God’s purpose for us. Most importantly, the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus sent to be with us always (Jn. 14:16) means we are never alone. He wraps us in Himself and calls us each moment to pay attention.
The greatest challenge to our awareness of God’s abiding presence through the Holy Spirit is self-preoccupation. In some ways, we are all preoccupied with ourselves: whether we are good enough; whether our life is truly meaningful; whether people truly love us; whether we will make it in life; plus, the burdens from our past experiences, regretted choices and the shame that tends to make us hide or deny certain aspects of our history! It takes an incident as simple as a tree stripped bare in winter to wake us up, to shift attention away from ourselves and to the God that clasps us in love and tenderness. After that experience, Brother Lawrence was set free from himself and from worries about the world. May this experience of freedom be your gift at this Pentecost. Amen
~Fr Cornelius Okeke