• on 19th March, 2019

A REFLECTION ON THE LIFE OF TREES: Fr. Dermot Lane, Church of the Ascension, 16 March 2019


As climate change continues un-checked, as global warming continues to
increase, and as the pollution of the air and oceans continues to expand–
all because of human activity — people and scientists are now looking at
trees and forests for inspiration. After all, trees are older than human
beings in the chain of evolution and live longer, and so may have some
lessons to teach us.

In particular, people are looking more closely at The Hidden life of Trees-
the title of a bestselling book by Peter Wohlleben, originally published in
2015 in German and now translated into many languages.

Trees provide a home for an amazing number of small insects, birds,
animals, ferns and fungi. Many trees grow old gracefully and live much
longer than us humans


On close inspection we are discovering the trees in the forests have a
very elaborate underground net work, so much so that foresters talk about
the existence of a “wood-wide-web”, a little like our world-wide-web.


Further, trees in the forest are known to communicate with each other.
One tree will act as a mother to its neighbours, exchanging vital
information. For example, if a tree is bitten by Caterpillar, it will send
out a message, prompting other trees in the network to release
self-protecting chemicals to repel the Caterpillar.


In effect, trees have feelings. They know how to communicate with one
another, with strong trees able to assist week trees when they are in


Trees appear to have a hidden life of their own, with some parallels
with the interior lives of humans.


Another fascinating aspect about the lives of trees is that they break
down carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, producing distinct elements of
carbon and oxygen.

Trees transform carbon dioxide into distinct elements of carbon which the
tree absorbs and they also produce distinct elements of oxygen which
enable the earth to live.

Trees are often described as “the lungs of the earth” and so forests are
often called “carbon sinks”, that is depositories or basins for carbon.


Trees are also our companions on the journey of life. They are our
silent companions who are always there for us, protecting the atmosphere
and providing oxygen for life.


If you read the Bible, especially the Psalms, you will find references
to trees and the way they give glory to God.


So for example, Psalm 96 goes like this:

Sing to the Lord all the earth,

let the heavens rejoice

and let the earth be glad.

Let the sea roar and all that fills it.

Let the fields rejoice, that everything in them,

and then shall all the trees of the wood shout for joy before the Lord.


In ancient Israel when a child was born a tree would be planted in
honour of the child. It would be the responsibility of that child to care
for the well-being of the tree


Mary Angelou, the Afro-American poet wrote a poem entitled

When Great Trees fall :

When great trees fall,

rocks on distant hills shutter,

Lions hunker down in tall grasses and even elephants lumbar after safety.

When great trees fall in forests,

small things recoil into silence

their senses eroded beyond fear.

And so today, as part of our Lenten journey, and in response to Laudato Si’:
On care for our Common Home (section 211), we plant 3 trees in the church
grounds. May this ritual be a reminder to us of our kinship with nature and
in particular with all the trees in our parish

And in conclusion, let us give thanks to God for the ways that trees can
serve as carbon-sinks and sources of oxygen for all of us who live within
the community of God’s creation.

The service in the church concluded with a recitation by Orla Carroll of an
inspiring poem entitled “When I am among trees” written by the American
poet Mary Oliver:

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

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