Climbing the Willow

When I was a child on the farm, I had my own willow tree to climb. Its strong branches were low and spreading, inviting me upwards. Hidden high behind a waving green curtain, I looked down on the world. I watched my mother hang laundry on the line, glimpsed my grandmother in her flower beds, and smelled fresh cut grass as my father mowed the lawn. With an apple and a book, I curled into the small space where three branches met, snug and content in my green balcony.

Now I have another willow tree, and it is blooming green-gold in the springtime sun. My granddaughters climb it sometimes as I work below in my flower beds. I wonder if my grandmother watched me surreptitiously, concerned for my safety, as I do them.

But today, on this sunny spring day, my willow glowed with an invitation for me to climb. “Come,” it whispered, “come and join my celebration of greening, of springtime renewal.” How could I resist?

I grabbed the first low branch and pulled myself up. The bark was rougher than I remembered. My hands gripped firmly, and I carefully placed my feet as I stepped up the ladder of branches angling off the trunk. Finally I leaned back and looked up into the canopy of pale color draped around me. Light and shadow flickered as a breeze whispered and gently waved the greening fronds. I was awake to the sacredness of the moment and content within it. “Here, now. This place, this time,” I thought.

I was held within the willow tree, but when I climbed down and turned to resume my work, I discovered that the tree was within me, too. A bit of willow’s tree-ness had entered me and changed my day. I was refreshed. It was a balm for my thirsty spirit, though I had not even known I was thirsty.

I hadn’t realized how much I needed that brief time of stillness in the tree. Turning to my garden again, I walked differently, steadied and grounded. I was more aware of the world around me, seeing more than just the weeds I had been focused on.

What happened to me? Was there extra rich oxygen I breathed, straight from the breath of the tree? While such an image may be fanciful, I knew one thing I had done–I had stopped my work and climbed. I had paused in the middle of a task-focused day, opening to become aware of the sacred now, this amazing Spirit-filled, never-to-be-repeated day.

Perhaps my willow is inviting me to become a prayer partner, to join together in a practice of opening to the Holy around us and within us, to celebrate together God’s miracle of renewal. I wonder what it would be like to pray regularly while perched within a tree. Perhaps there is a miracle of springtime renewal there, not only for the tree, but also for me.

The Celtic Christian tradition celebrates the presence of the Holy within everything that is created. In Carmina Gadelica, a collection of Celtic Christian prayers and poems, one prayer affirms that “There is no plant in the ground but is full of God’s virtue. There is no form in the strand but is full of God’s blessing.

All living things are of God. I knew that when I climbed down from the tree, but I often forget. I forget to see the miracles of creation all around me. Springtime’s blossoming trees and new green shoots help me to remember, but my task-focused life makes it easy to pass by even these signs. I want to remember to be awake.

May we all remain awake to the miracles around us, whatever season we are living in. May we remember to pause and pay attention to the Holy, however it appears in our lives.

See, I am doing a new thing. Now it springs up. Do you not perceive it. (Isa.43:19)

6 thoughts on “Climbing the Willow”

  1. So beauifully written and inviting to join in the joining with the divine. I read, in your piece and am reminded that as we grow older we return to the Source. Your description of the time in the tree when you were younger brought me to the new experiences I had as a kid. There were discovies that were full of wonder, timelessness and a doing with something bigger than me. I look for those same things now. You confirm for me the sense of that in what and how you wrote of your experience of renewal of what was new one time before. Many thanks.

    1. Dear Joe, Thank you so much for writing! What we discover in the natural world as a child can truly speak to us much later. As a child, I didn’t have a name for it–the Source, the Holy–but I was filled with wonder and connected to something bigger than me. Nancy

  2. Does the tree do anything, other than be itself? And as it is itself, does it not grow? And is not the being itself, and the becoming more itself, not also a prayer? God, grant me the wisdom of the trees…

    1. Dear Roy,
      Thank you so much for your reflection. Yes, to live like a tree so that my living is growing more into myself. That living is a prayer. May our lives grow deeper; may the ground of our being be God.

  3. Nancy, I delighted with you as you climbed! So glad for the communion between you and the tree and the God who is always coming close 🙂

    1. Dear Ann, Isn’t it a wonder that this communion is always possible—if we pause and notice it, and open to it. Thank you for writing, my friend.

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