Dear Friends in Christ,
Have you been noticing the trees more lately? It's that time of year when we do pay attention to their budding and greening because it is a sign of the promise--and we are usually so sick of winter that we are ready! As in these worrisome times, the Promise is always better than the present.
I have been noticing the trees more because of our class, and because of Thomas Merton's meditation on identity. How, if we can stand long enough and grow true enough, our communion with God will deepen as our identity in him comes alive: “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 something else which it was never intended to be, it would be less like God and therefore it would give Him less glory.” (Ch. 5 p. 29)
It's more than a "bloom where you are planted" mentality. It is a bloom because you are planted. Remember? We are not our own. We knew that even before Merton put it so eloquently: “Therefore each particular being, in its individuality, its concrete nature and entity, with all its own characteristics and its private qualities and inviolable identity, gives glory to God precisely what He wants it to be here and now, in the circumstances ordained for it by His love and His infinite art.” (p. 30). Here is our ten cent word for the day: in·vi·o·la·ble. (inˈvīələbəl). “Never to be broken, infringed, or dishonored. Inalienable. Unalterable. Absolute.“ Perhaps scripture says it more succinctly: “Know that the Lord, He is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves…” (Psalm 100:3).
So, our "tree pose" is a desire and a will to live fully into your identity as you were intended to be. There really is a tree pose. I do one in yoga (badly, as I am always falling over). It is, as you might imagine, the shape of a tree: feet firmly planted, legs and torso held straight, arms reaching upward, all the way to the fingertips. In exercise, the point is to separate the ribs and lengthen the spine, flexing all the shoulder and arm muscles as the movement spreads vertically through you. Spiritually, I take it as a pose of surrender. No, it is not looking down, or kneeling in penitence or contrition. But when I make this body-shaped "Y," I mimic that posture Fr Bill takes to offer us bread broken--in the communion--the response to the breaking of the bread is an instantaneous reaching upward and outward.
Where have we seen tis shape before? If you do it (stand this way) you will know--your body, in the shape of a "Y," resembles a chalice, and a chalice is the most resounding "YES!" that has ever been spoken and ever shall be: “Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’ Matthew 26:39 39
It not exactly an Orans Position, but it is close. The “Orans” position is a gesture of pleading and supplication used since ancient times. Early Pagan communities right up to Jewish worshippers used it, and it is depicted in many statues, carvings, and relief artwork: the supplicant standing, with elbows slightly bent and the arms and hands reaching upward. I have to think it’s close to the shape Jesus’ body made in the garden of Gethsemane, though so many paintings show him kneeling (near a ROCK! “Thou art Peter and on this rock I will build my church.”) In the Middle Ages the pose was abandoned for a more penitential posture and was even forbidden for the laity. Instead, the folded hand prayer posture became more customary, eyes closed and cast downward. Today, the pose is used only by the priest at the height of a Eucharist, or by some of them “funky folks” in more praise-style contemporary worship.
But we might not get so squirrelly standing next to someone worshipping in this fashion if we understood the theology of the pose. Where have we seen this posture before? Standing, arms outstretched, beseeching? “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34). It is the pose of the Christ crucified. Total submission and abandonment for pure love. Ready? Plant your feet and try reaching.
So now it is Lent, and we gather with our Creator family now not in body but through prayer--prayer that can, if we practice it, become as strong as physical presence. Stronger, even. There is no virus or other catastrophe that can break the bonds we share united in prayer. It is, in a word inviolable. It’s true, our communion loves an altar—and all the pretty windows, flowers, candles, song that accompany our Sunday morning experience. But our communion is begun, complete, and perfected by the Holy Spirit in prayer and we can receive it now perhaps a little more fully when stripped of the comfy distractions.
Today, when you make your prayers, instead of kneeling or sitting or multitasking (in the shower, in the car, in the many places we hallow with prayer while also doing something else), maybe pause and pose your body into the shape of a tree. Beautiful, up-reaching spring trees, still scraggly and bare, yet filled with promise. Hands upward, eyes on the promise. His promise. “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
Stand still, tree, and see your body has become a cup. Be still, and let our gracious and loving Father fill you up.