I sat on my front porch as the cool morning breeze gently lifted the leaves from the grasp of the trees and carried them to their death. Winter was coming. Seasons would change, and new life would be born again after the cold passed.
These trees had seen many cycles of birth, life, death and rebirth. The rhythm of non-being, being, loss and new being was their very being.
And so I said to these trees, “You are my elders.”
Growing up in and spending most of my life in the church, the elders are supposed to be the overseers, the wise teachers, the protectors, the ones who walk with us through the many seasons of being and un-being, of absence and presence. Yet for so many of us, they become a source of disconnect from being. And so I sit on my front porch at the feet of my new elders.
But trees don’t shepherd like humans do. They don’t make you sign documents about your beliefs and roles, make pledges or threaten to expel the ones who disagree or don’t live up to their expectations. They don’t offer three-point, alliterated outlines each week or schedule their sermons out a year in advance.
Trees simply live into their being and in their being draw us in to their deep, silent wisdom. Through each season, they speak with the silent presence of giving birth, holding life, letting go, and in the solitude of winter cultivating a hidden, unknown beauty.
So this morning I sit before my elders once again. And in the silence, they draw me in. Once again, I notice the breeze gently dancing with their branches. But this time, their hands do not let go of their leaves. This time, their hands reveal the hidden, unknown beauty of new life they had been quietly cultivating from their deepest center while we had been shivering in the cold.
I notice how some of the trees are giving birth toward the tops of their branches, while others begin spreading life toward the middle. Still others remain apparently bare toward the left while giving birth toward the right. New life takes many forms, shapes and paths. But all are a beautiful part of this.
“New life takes many forms, shapes and paths. But all are a beautiful part of this.”
I consider how these trees arose from the earth, how their intertwining roots reveal an interconnected consciousness of a common being between them and a converging in presence.
And then I remember that I, too, have arisen from this same earth. And so my consciousness is connected with the consciousness of these trees in converging presence.
I think about my story of spirituality, of growing up in the church, of giving my entire life and career to it, of letting go and seeing it from the breeze.
I’m reminded of how my tradition grew rooted over many centuries from ancient views of a hierarchical cosmos, where life on earth stretched up toward the realm of the divine in a continuous hierarchy toward ultimate power.
I remember how I used to speak of trees lifting their hands to the God up there, of the God up there looking at us down here, hopefully receiving enough honor from us to make him happy.
And I’m reminded now that we don’t live in a hierarchical cosmos. There is no up and down, no tower to build up to a dome with doors to ascend into the realm of the gods. There is simply the being of absence and presence. The story of the cosmos is a converging, a coming together — and in our interconnected consciousness evolving toward a transcended consciousness and being.
“We don’t live in a hierarchical cosmos. There is no up and down, no tower to build up to a dome with doors to ascend into the realm of the gods.”
Scientists speak of this as particles converging to transcend as atoms, atoms converging to transcend as molecules. They tell the story of ancient stars cultivating the ingredients of life in their cores, and then dying to spread the seeds of life throughout the cosmos, leading to trees and us.
Mystics such as St. Francis of Assisi spoke of this interconnected reality as Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother Wind, Sister Water, Brother Fire, Sister Mother Earth.
The Apostle Paul told the Athenians that God gives everyone life and breath and everything else, that we all live and move and have our being in God, and that we are all the offspring of God.
Jesus said to consider the birds and to consider how the wildflowers grow.
So I gaze at these trees and quietly realize they’re not reaching up toward a hierarchy. They’re reaching out toward a fuller experience of life from the presence of their deepest selves.
As they’re reaching out, they’re drawing me in. As I reach out toward them, our consciousness converges. And as I share this experience with you, our conscious awareness of common being extends beyond my front porch to wherever you find yourself and amongst all across time and space who read this.
We now know that we do not live in a hierarchical cosmos. So for some of us, it can become difficult to imagine where Jesus might be. If there is no dome with a door that leads to the realm of the divine into which he ascended and disappeared, then where did he go? And where is he now?
There are many things that we simply cannot know, let alone prove.
But one thing I do know: The Gospels encourage us to be shepherded by birds and wildflowers. They speak of Jesus telling us that where two or three gather, he is there. They testify that when we feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked and visit the sick or the prisoner, we’re converging with the brothers and sisters of Christ, and in so doing with Christ himself.
While I may not be able to prove where Jesus is at this moment or create documents for people to pledge their beliefs to, I can begin to wonder that perhaps it’s in our converging with birds, the wildflowers, trees and one another that Jesus meets with us.
I thank my elders for this awareness, I stand up, and I reach out toward my front door to be with my kids.
Rick Pidcock is a stay-at-home father of five kids. He and his wife, Ruth Ellen, have started Provoke Wonder, a collaboration of artists that exists to foster child-like worship through story and song. Provoke Wonder’s first album, Consider the Stars, was released in March 2020. Their first children’s book, What If, will be released soon. Rick is pursuing a master of arts degree in worship from Northern Seminary.