Today I’ve been thinking about this blog post which popped up on my facebook feed this morning. I found it a very helpful piece in thinking about how to acknowledge the racism that permeates our lives, but the line that struck me most was in the introduction, where the author is describing (as a parallel to racism) the pervasive influences of sexism:
And it is very, very difficult for a woman to be healthy in a world that is still so very sick.
I feel the weight of that sentence deep in my stomach. I feel it not just as a woman, but just, in general. That our world exists as a complex plane of imbalances. That we (especially those who live in privileged planes) are so good at creating toxic air and environments - both culturally and in the physical world. That this toxic air poisons us (all of us!) and makes it SO HARD to live well.
Somewhere in my memory (and this is how apocrypha begins), someone once told me that Thomas Merton compared the vocation of a monk to being a tree. That is to say, there might be people in the world who don’t do anything obviously “productive” with their lives. Instead, their sole purpose is to lift up the world in prayer, like trees taking in carbon dioxide and breathing out oxygen.
That’s a beautiful image to me. Thinking of people as trees makes me want to believe that I too could take in toxic air and transform it into something life-giving. It brings to mind another blog post, (this one riffing on Psalm 1) that concludes:
More than money, more than fame, more than power, I aspire to be most of all like a tree: I want to give. I want to contribute. I want my existence to nourish and bless many. I want to be a source of life.
How would my life differ if I aspired to be like a tree? I might live according to seasons of growth and rest instead of being “on” all the time; I’d sink my roots and not move about; I would be powerful but not dominate my ecosystem. I would be instead of do.
Obviously, being a tree is not a concrete strategy to change the world. It’s quite the opposite. Being a tree is like an icon - a physical symbol that points to a deeper reality.
Sometimes it’s enough to just meditate on that icon. Sometimes just thinking about being a tree feels like I’m giving myself a breath of fresh air.