There are many maxims relating to trees that are worth reflecting on:
What is well rooted survives.
As the twig bends so the tree will grow.
Severed branches grow again.
The whole tree is hidden in the acorn.
Every tree is known by its fruit.
A rotten tree bears rotten fruit.
Trees are full of secrets.
A tree’s rootedness points to our rootlessness.
It was seated in meditation under the of a pipal fig tree that the Buddha attained enlightenment. And there is Jesus’ story about the tiny mustard seed which when planted grows into a great tree, so that birds perch in its branches. Perhaps it was this image which prompted some words to come to me once in a meditation, and which I asked the calligrapher John Rowlands-Pritchard to make into a card – now on display at the Bleddfa Centre:
A Tree Being Motionless Birds Come To It.
Among the many sayings of Jesus is: ‘Seek and you shall find. Ask and it shall be given unto you.’ But it is plain that often we do not find what we seek, nor do we get our prayers answered! So what on earth was Jesus saying? Again, it comes down to the mistake of taking his teachings literally. First, we have to know what it is we are truly seeking in the depths of our lives. Only then will we know what to ask for. Jesus’ way of teaching can be deceptive. As with Japanese koans, we have to live with his teachings until their deeper meaning is revealed.
Jesus famously remarked, ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.’ We sometimes say of someone, ‘I wish never to see them again,’ with reference to something in their behaviour that has offended us. All too often it is simply a projection of the ‘shadow’ in ourselves. None of us, not even the saints, is without some form of inner darkness – be it shortness of temper, impatience, laziness, bossiness or whatever. So always we need to look inside ourselves before we rush to criticise others. It is here that the practice of meditation can enable us to be more centred and less liable to stone-throwing.
Jesus’s command to his followers is not as simple as it sounds. We have first to learn how to love ourselves before we can love anyone else. That does not mean being self-obsessed, but learning to come to terms with our own contradictions, hidden aggressions, lusts, vanities – with what Jung termed our shadow side. Only then can we love our neighbour as ourself, without any projections or expectations, but simply to be alongside them when needed.
We once seemed to have lost a sense of community and neighbourliness, especially in towns and cities; but the lockdown of 2020 during the pandemic has begun to revive awareness of our neighbours, as people reach out to each other in ways that have not been seen for many decades.
There are those who take every word said by Jesus literally, forgetting that he spoke in images rather than arguments, for his mainly unsophisticated rural audiences. Thus, when he said, ‘Take up your cross and follow me,’ he didn’t mean a path of suffering such as he himself had to undergo, dying on a cross.
A cross is a symbol of the intersection of two paths, hence the image of the crossroads. As Bani Shorter observes in If Ritual Dies, ‘Crossings and crossroads are of deep symbolic meaning in life. It was Hermes, the messenger of the gods, who was guardian at the crossroads in ancient Greece. There, where one is challenged by change of direction and choice, one encounters one’s god.’ Taking up our cross implies integrating the opposites within ourselves – which is indeed a lifetime task.
When Jesus says, ‘In my Father’s house there are many mansions,’ I think of this as ‘many dimensions’. People who have had a Near-Death Experience overwhelmingly report a feeling of certainty that life continues after we have deceased. Those who have had such an experience – and there are now millions of recorded instances – speak of death as nothing other than a different state of being. They set less store by money and material possessions, and report instead a deepening of spiritual values. They realise that everything and everybody is connected.
Bible stories such as The Good Samaritan and The Prodigal Son no longer seem to find much resonance in today’s culture, as few people have been brought up on the teachings of Jesus. Yet each of these stories has a profound psychological meaning and is as relevant today as in the past. In throwing out conventional Christian teachings, we have lost much wisdom and insight into human nature. Each of the major religions has stories, spun from human experience, that can deepen our understanding. 40,000 homeless people sleep on the streets of New York every night. The story of The Good Samaritan is as relevant today as it ever was.