Deeply Rooted …

I was at Vina for three days when Bernard gave me a tour of the grounds around the Monastery.  As we drove around he pointed out the trees, some being very old.  He then pointed to a small group of trees, large ones or so it seemed to me.  Then he told me that they were 400 year old Redwood trees.  I had a sudden change of perspective and instead of seeing them as rather large trees and ancient; I saw them as being young and small, far from the height that they would reach if they ever lived out their many millennium long growth. This is the first time I saw a Redwood tree that was not a Bonsai, so it was quite an experience for me.

 Later than evening I went out to look at them and was amazed at how slow they grow, but as the years go by they becoming more stately and beautiful.  Even in old age many get scarred and twisted, but I have found that is also a form of beauty, reached after many years of hard struggle to survive.    They are deeply rooted in the earth, present always to the moment and patient with their growth cycle and not worried that they are capable of living for thousands of years. 

People on the other hand, possibly grow just as much as a redwood will in its long life in their short lifetime.  That is why old age, as hard as it is, and I am beginning to experience that reality, is a time of life that is possibly the most important.  Yet in our culture it is seen as the opposite and something to be ashamed of.  Everyone wants to look young, even if it kills them to do so.  Yet I believe we should be proud of our scars, of our worn out bodies, as well as the hard choices we have made in life to become more mature human beings, more loving and compassionate.  No, old age is not easy, but for many of us today, it is the crown jewel of our lives.  

In the years I have been in the Monastery, I always noticed that the monks here when they reached a certain age, many of them begin to change.  Their lives become simpler, they prayed/mediated more, and became gentler with others.  Not all, some did have the usual human problems with memory, dementia, and personality quirks.  Yet even they changed their focus.  They wanted to live, but were unafraid to die.  They wanted us to take care of their pain, but when we could not for whatever reason, they were still peaceful about it.  They know that this life is important, for it is here that we choose, grow, and are transformed into the people that God made us to be.  Yes old age is our final struggle, we get through it, and we are not ashamed of our age.  

Perhaps when death is not seen as the end, when life is a pilgrimage, it is then that passing away takes on a different hue from say those who believe otherwise.  We are becoming something here and by the grace of God and our own inner choices we become beings that are filled with love, or sadly perhaps some into something else.  We become more human and loving or more into what we love the most, or cling to in our deep inner freedom that only God sees.

Redwood trees as beautiful and awesome as they are, do not feel pain, nor do they have to choose, they are deeply rooted in the earth and in that they become something truly fabulous.   Human beings are called as well to become works of art, we do that by our choices, many hard ones, by dying to a small life of self centeredness to a expansive one where our humanity becomes fully into what it is meant to be.  

God law is written in our hearts, thus no one can judge another, or pretend that they know better than others.  In that we either grow by allowing God’s will (law) to work in us or not….how that works I don’t know, nor is it my business, my intent is to become what I am made to be…..what that is, I do not yet know.  St. Paul talks about a seed, then the tree.  Both the same life, but different, totally different…..resurrected humanity, what is that?  Well perhaps the redwood tree can help us; it is something glorious, and deeply rooted in reality, that grows slowly over a long period time.  Like us, in our lives, we have many ups and downs, so our growth can seem slow and tedious, but something is going on deep in our souls that perhaps will only bear fruit when we become into the mystery of what God wants us to be.  Until then, we take root and through patient endurance we grow. 

Mark Dohle is a lifelong Cistercian monk at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, GA.

2 comments to Deeply Rooted …

  1. Marco M. Pardi
    August 25, 2015

    Though my personal views on theology are well known, I must affirm the profoundly important contributions of Brother Mark to our understanding of ourselves, our relationships with others, and our peace with ourselves.

    No matter your ultimate orientation, finding and feeling Mark’s thoughts cannot be anything other than enriching and developmental. While many withdraw into the comfort of their own seclusion, Mark takes us with him through himself and back out into the world at large with a far greater understanding of ourselves in the human community.

  2. J Kent
    August 25, 2015

    Until then, we take root and through patient endurance we grow.


    This statement above is the last one in your correspondence Brother Mark. I found it remarkable in its simplicity; that is such, that many people seem to go through life failing to understand just how easy life could be. That is providing one slows down long enough to grab a breath.

    While taking that breath and exhaling to relax; some actually realize, we simply take root by learning to be patient. By being patient, we grow from giving our body its nurturance needed to endurance our day to day experiences. Those experiences we call the present. [It actually is a present each day we receive as a gift.]

    I read the great book titled, The Horse Whisperer, several years ago. Near the end, I took something away, that at the time, I felt an electrical shock of realization. Thinking that thought was so profound in nature: Especially given its simplicity.

    The horse whisperer hired to heal their daughter’s beloved horse, was bearing a great hurt brought from losing the contact and the loss of love from his wife and daughter, due to his failed last marriage. The female protagonist was also suffering lost love from a callous husband’s failure to return her love.

    Forbearance of their losses and her current marriage was keeping them from falling in love to assuage their mutual pain and loneliness. In the story, as their time was coming to an end, he invited her to join him for a midnight dinner under the stars on top of a mountain, He was wanting to make his feelings known to her before it was too late. These feelings were far from new. You could feel the tenuous emotions building between them the minute they met, growing stronger as each day passed.

    As they gathered closer together from the cool evening breeze, after dining and sipping wine under the stars, she expressed her concerns about her troubled marriage. Her concerns centered on the breach that their union at that moment could create; that is, if things were allowed to go further that evening. This knowing, full well, the chasm in her marriage, had been growing since their marriage of convenience begin to show early signs of malcontent.

    Her reluctance to submit to his affections and advances that evening under the stars were obvious in the words she uttered expressing: This was not a good time to begin their intrigue.

    He countered by telling a story about the time we all occupy on the earth. He spoke of that time as being now. Now, it is, because every second of our time here is a now. He went further to say that the now grows to become the nows. [Nows] collectively grow to become our future! We all want to change our future and existence to be more fruitful leading to greater happiness and joy; but, many never reach happiness in their future, as being one they only superficially feel and live.

    I immediately did the old paradigm shift, by beginning to feel something each day learned from everyone and everything I experienced. What I gathered and felt from the nows of my time, lead me to grow and build a better future. The clouds separated, the road grew less steep, and breathing became easier with rewards flowing my way expressed by a more abundant outcome.

    As each day expired, I rested well, after enjoying my present from that day; eager to have more nows in my tomorrows, to build a stronger foundation for my future days ahead!

    Like the trees in your story, I begin to change my looks and my attitude on life, by not allowing myself to fall from the path, believing I was too old or too weak to grow to be a part of my future!

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