Out my back window stand two oak trees. I’ve spent many hours meditating on them and have come to know them as companions on the life journey. They remind me of one of my favorite poems, Friendship, by Henry Thoreau. He describes friendship like this,
Two sturdy oaks, which side by side….
Above they barely touch, but undermined
Down to their deepest source,
Admiring you shall find
Their roots are intertwined
Not only are the two oaks’ roots intertwined, but I feel that my roots are bound to theirs, forming a mystical and trinitarian friendship. I am not alone in finding friendship and God in trees.
This second week of Advent we read two classic stories of prophecy, Isaiah and the Jesse Tree, and John the Baptist and the Tree of Good Fruit. In both stories, the prophets have chosen the tree as a way to communicate the coming of the Incarnation of God’s love in the life Jesus. Both Isaiah and John tell us that we will know the Tree of Life from its fruits of justice, peace, harmony, community, and healing. How familiar these stories are to us that bring us hope, understood through the passage of time. But we can imagine that in the freshness of their day, how misunderstood the prophets where, their message unheard and unheeded.
We know that the prophets’ words fell on deaf ears in their time because of our own deafness to hearing our prophets of today. Quickly we might name people like Berta Caceres, eco-martyr from Honduras or Dorothy Day, foundress of the Catholic worker in the United States, who despite their great sacrifice of speaking courageously from their lineage as daughters of the Jesse Tree, have remained in voices in the desert.
We may expand our notion of prophesy to entire communities, like the Standing Rock tribe in North Dakota calling for respect and care of their sacred land or the young people in Hong Kong clamoring for their right to self-determination. Again, we see the fruit of the Jesse tree incarnated in these cries, but sadly the world remains largely deaf to their pleas for justice, peace, and wholeness.
We can expand even further our imagination and believe that the Jesse Tree is not only symbol, but substance of the Incarnation. We can hear the prophesy of the Jesse Tree, the Tree of Life itself that has a unique voice with its own pitch and purpose.
To help us widen our understanding of the prophesy of trees we hear the voice of another prophet, St. Hildegard of Bingen, 12th century Benedictine from the Rhineland. The Cosmic Tree was among the many illuminations she received. In pondering this vision, we can see that for Hildegard, there is deep communion and collaboration between the human and non-human natural world; that the micro and macro worlds nestle together in harmony. For Hildegard, life-giving divine creativity is as much a cosmic experience as it is a human one. As such, all of Creation has a prophetic voice, a sacred purpose, and is embraced in God’s story of salvation.
We know that a common fate of prophets such as Isaiah, John the Baptist, and Berta Caceres is martyrdom, killed into silence. The fate of our tree-prophets is no different. Only look at the massive deforestation in the Amazon, wildfires ripping through California, entire mountaintops removed in Appalachia and we hear that the song of trees, their divine sacred purpose is being silenced by the work of human hands, attitudes, and desires.
In these days of Advent, let us prepare the way for the Incarnation by opening our hearts to the song of trees as prophets. Let us hear the tree-prophets of today in a way that creates understanding and space for the ache of God’s love and that the sap of life will once again flow through all Creation to bud, bloom, and bear good fruit for all.
Amy Woolam Echeverria
Amy Woolam Echeverria serves as the International Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation Coordinator for Columban Missionaries. In recent years, she has contributed to the founding of international networks and projects such as the Global Catholic Climate Movement (GCCM), the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative (CNI, a project of Pax Christi International) and the Ecclesial Network for the PanAmazon (REPAM). She has served on several Boards and Steering Committees for national and international organizations and coalitions dedicated to peace, social and environmental justice.
Amy began her service to the Church twenty-five years ago in refugee resettlement first in the United States and then in Chile where she served as a volunteer with Holy Child Sisters and worked as a consultant for the first UNHCR refugee resettlement program in Latin America. While in Chile Amy began working with Columban missionaries and has been with Columbans for 18 years.
Amy collaborates on many international advocacy and education campaigns on issues including peace, climate change, water, migrants and refugees, trade and investment issues.
She anticipates completing her Masters of Arts in Spirituality in May 2020 from the Oblate School of Theology, Institute for Spiritual Studies. Her focus is in ecological and cosmological theology and spirituality. She has written on a range of JPIC themes and their interconnectedness for academic, grassroots, religious formation, and advocacy purposes.
Amy lives in the metro Washington D.C. area with her son Francisco and daughter Landes. Her favorite season is Autumn and she enjoys contemplation in creation, writing, and baking.
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