Sunday morning was glorious, a dream come true.
Conflicted about going to church on Sunday mornings, I have often chosen instead to spend the time out of doors: walking in the woods near my home or heading up to the mountains.
Once several years ago when I skipped church, the husband and I were motorcycling on the Blue Ridge Parkway when I had a spiritual encounter with trees. The trees on either side reached over the road, forming a canopy. It seemed the trees were joining “hands,” and that they were protecting me, even praying for me, as I passed through the cool green tunnel.
Last Sunday, for the first time ever, I did not have to choose. My pastor decided a few months ago to hold some services outdoors on the church property. He called the husband and others from our parish to prepare the woods for worship. They made a clearing and leveled a parking area on the field at the woods’ edge.
They created two “entrances” into the worship space. As I stepped from the open field into the woods, the coolness greeted me with gentle caresses. The canopy overhead creating a green cathedral. Everyone’s face reflected joy.
We brought our own chairs to set on either side of the “aisle,” indicated by slender ropes secured to the ground. The floor sloped ever-so-slightly downward to the altar: a folding table covered with green cloth, a cross made of two hickory branches.
The birds paid us no mind, but flitted about singing overhead. Or perhaps they sang with us. So did the trees, as the breeze rustled their leaves. And they lifted their leafy arms to pray.
As in a beautiful cathedral, our eyes were drawn up. Rather than praying scrunch-faced, we prayed like Jesus: eyes open, looking up.
The Celts — and I — believe humans have a kinship with trees. They are servants and companions.
- Trees renew our air supply by absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen.
• The amount of oxygen produced by an acre of trees per year equals the amount consumed by 18 people annually. One tree produces nearly 260 pounds of oxygen each year.
• One acre of trees removes up to 2.6 tons of carbon dioxide each year.
• Shade trees can make buildings up to 20 degrees cooler in the summer.
• Trees lower air temperature by evaporating water in their leaves.
• Tree roots stabilize soil and prevent erosion.
• Trees improve water quality by slowing and filtering rain water, as well as protecting aquifers and watersheds.
God is big on trees. Trees and other vegetation were created on the third day, it says in Genesis. They had to precede the creation of humans, because we need them to survive. Adam and Eve had a relationship with the trees and with one in particular. God made a tree to hold the mystery of the knowledge of good and evil, as well as a tree of life, which was protected by angels because anyone who eats of it lives forever.
Also in Genesis, when Abraham (father of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths) left his homeland, his journey is marked by his arrival at trees, such as “the great tree of Moreh at Shechem.” And later, “So Abram moved his tents and went to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron, where he built an altar to the Lord” (Gen. 13:18). Why were these trees important?
Trees are prominent at the end of the Bible, too. “Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city,” says Revelation 22:1-2. “On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”
The trees ministered healing to us sitting beneath them on Sunday morning. Our church, like many others, like life itself, has had its struggles.
But in the woods, among the trees, worshipping together, I felt healing. An unexplainable, peaceful, gentle, deep healing.
(Visitors are welcome to join our worship in the woods. The plan is to meet there through Aug. 1, but that date may be extended, depending on weather and other practical considerations. The property is on the corner of Port Republic and Boyers roads. Bring a chair.)