Be Like a Tree, Only Free

by | Nov 2, 2015 | 3 Meek

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).

Who are you? What do you want? If you are a reflective person at all, those questions arise from time to time, usually at crossroads. So how do you know when you arrive at yourself? Thomas Merton suggests learning from a tree.

A tree gives glory to God by being a tree. For in being what God means it to be it is obeying Him. It “consents,” so to speak, to His creative love. It is expressing an idea which is in God and which is not distinct from the essence of God, and therefore a tree imitates God by being a tree.  The more a tree is like itself, the more it is like Him. If it tried to be like something else which it was never intended to be, it would be less like God and therefore it would give Him less glory.[1]

A tree cannot envy a dog’s running or a philosopher’s thinking. Rather, it rests in the necessity of itself. It knows no restlessness over what it could be if it only did more of this or looked more like that.  So let go of that restlessness and just be like a tree. Right?

Easier said than done, for God gives you as a human being an opportunity denied the tree.  While Merton is beautifully correct in speaking of the tree as a saint glorifying God by simply being itself, he announces that human sainthood takes on an additional dimension: the exercise of your freedom to join God in creating you, to journey with God in finding you.

God makes you as you are and calls you not just to be generically human but the particular human being you are with your name, face, fingerprints, and vocation.  If you responsibly decide along the way what you are for, whom you love, what mark to make, what stand to take and thereby “build your life as if it were a work of art”,[2] then paradoxically you discover who you already are.  The monument sculpted by your decisions emerges when you finally see the beauty you tried to make already embodied in the stone, and you recognize the image of God who worked with you all along in your loneliness.[3]

God utters me like a word containing a partial thought of him. A word will never be able to comprehend the voice that utters it. But if I am true to the concept that God utters in me, if I am true to the thought of Him that I was meant to embody, I shall be full of his actuality and find him everywhere in myself, and find myself nowhere.[4]

The trick to being “true to the thought of Him that I was meant to embody” is to make your decisions in love, for God is love. Then you will be a saint like a tree, only creative and free with the One who spoke you into being in God’s image.

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[1]Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation. (New York: New Directions, 1961), p.29.
[2] Abraham Joshua Heschel, I Asked for Wonder: A Spiritual Anthology, Samuel Dresner, ed. (New York: Crossroad, 1992), p.63.
[3] J. Marshall Jenkins, A Wakeful Faith: Spiritual Practice in the Real World. (Nashville, TN: Upper Room Books, 2000), pp.73-76.
[4] Merton, p. 37.


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