By Rev. John Song
Words of Meditation
Hildegard of Bingen heard God say,
I am the breeze that nurtures all things green.
I encourage blossoms to flourish with ripening fruits.
I am the rain coming from the dew
that causes the grasses to laugh
with the joy of life.
~ Hildegard von Bingen, the 12th-century German woman Christian mystic
Keep a green tree in your heart and a songbird will come. ~ Chinese proverb
For if they do these things when the tree is green,
what will happen when it is dry? ~ Luke 23:31
Hebrew Readings Genesis 1:11-12
God saw that it was good
11Then God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees
on the earth bearing fruit after their kind with seed in them”; and it was so. 12The earth
brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit
with seed in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good.
“I will put the cedar in the wilderness,
The acacia and the myrtle and the olive tree;
I will place the juniper in the desert
Together with the box tree and the cypress,
That they may see and recognize,
And consider and gain insight as well,
That the hand of the Lord has done this,
And the Holy One of Israel has created it.”
*Gospel Reading ~ Luke 23:31
What will happen when the tree is dry?
“26 As they led him away, they seized a man, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming from the country, and they laid the cross on him, and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27 A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. 28 But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the days are surely coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’; and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31 For if they do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?
The Hubris and Colonial Mentality of Western Missionaries
Western missionaries went all overseas carrying God on their backpacks to give them God. They were operating from an assumption that these people were Godless people living in places devoid of God. Missionaries had everything to offer and teach while savages had nothing to offer to them or learn anything from them. Western missionaries saw these indigenous people had nothing but superstitions.
Generally speaking, the attitude of Western missionaries was:
We know, you don’t.
We have the truth, you don’t.
We have God, you don’t.
Discard everything you have learned and practiced and adopt our way because it’s way superior than yours.
Let’s take Polynesian islands for example. When missionaries went there, they forbade them from singing and dancing. Missionaries were uncomfortable and embarrassed by native’s nakedness. So they told them to cover their bodies with Victorian suits and dresses and passed on their sexual shame and hang-ups on to them. So the natives had to wear Western clothes and buttoned up in their warm, humid, tropical climate.
e.g. In Indonesia, the natives believed in the existence of the forest spirit. They had sacred relationship with their forest. Missionaries came and said that’s all hogwash. There is no spirit living in the forest. It’s just a superstitious belief. Consequently, the natives cut all the trees. But there was a seasonal monsoon rain. When monsoon rain came, it destroyed their forest with mud slides washing away all their top soil. For hundred thousands of years the natives lived in their land with beliefs and practices that preserved and sustained their way of living in the land. Tragically, Western missionaries weren’t evolved in their consciousness to understand that.
Forests Are Wired For Wisdom
from Suzanne Simard’s book, Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the
Wisdom of the Forest, 2021
Dr. Suzanne Simard is Professor of Forest Ecology at the University of British Columbia. In her latest book, Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest, she sheds light on the vitality of the living system of forestry and how similar they are with human families and society.
Suzanne Simard was an inspiration for Richard Powers’ celebrated novel, The Overstory, published in 2019 that centers around magnificent trees and unlocking the secret of forest. As the forest ecologist, Dr. Simard has proven, beyond doubt, that trees communicate with each other — that a forest is a single organism wired for wisdom and care. All of this turns out to be catching up with intelligence long held in aboriginal science.
Dr. Simard has been instrumental in a revolution in our way of thinking about what’s happening underground at the root level in a forest. But what the wisdom of forest is teaching us is that the superpower is cooperation, not competition, that that leads to flourishing of their species.
The evolutionary biology in its many fields has been pushing the idea that competition alone is the primary engine of evolution. Modern forestry had applied a logic of the Darwinian concept of “the survival of the fittest” in human societies and what our eyes could see, assumed that trees compete with each other for light and soil. So if you had talked to old-school foresters, or even some foresters still quite active, there would have been this sense that there’s nothing particularly interesting happening underground except for competitions for minerals and water among individual trees. Consequently, modern forestry tore out mature trees to plant marketable young species alone and set apart.
The kinds of experiments that Dr. Suzanne Simard embarked on would have been almost outside of the concept of these old practitioners. She began her rigorous, empirical, groundbreaking research with three types of coexistent species: paper birch, Douglas fir (which we use for Christmas trees), and western red cedar.
If you look at the belowground world of forest, it reveals a single living organism like an interconnected human society. This revelation is transforming our scientific and cultural understanding of trees. And she began to see that the forests were actually wired up in very complex and identifiable ways. She was looking at connections between the roots of trees and the threads of fungus that just fill the soil with nutrients. These bacteria, the fungi, the archaea, they’re the ones that are cycling the carbon, decomposing things, cycling nitrogen, filtering water, building soil, forming soil structure, and being caregivers of the forest.
She discovered there was an enormous system of resource sharing going on underground. She discovered trees were sharing not only sugars and the hydrocarbons necessary for survival, but also secondary metabolites. And these were being passed back and forth, both symbiotically between the trees and the fungi, but also across the network to other trees. There were actually trees in wired up, fungally-connected forests where large, dominant, healthy trees were subsidizing, as it were, trees that were injured, damaged in some way or not in favorable positions or just failing to thrive. And what Simard was seeing is if you take away one species from a plot of land, you often see degradation and failure to thrive in other species on that same plot of land. They’re the fundamental foundation of the forest. So every tree is linked to
every other tree.
All the little trees — the seedlings, the saplings are all linked into the networks that these old trees had established through their lifetime, and that the biggest, oldest trees were the hubs of the network. They were the nuclei. They were what everything else was linked into these big, old trees. The big old trees have big root systems. They’ve got many points of contact. And they have great big photosynthetic crowns that basically transmit energy into the ground that feeds the network. And so these young seedlings
regenerate within the network of the old trees.
So basically, they germinated, their little root systems developed, linked into the network of the old trees within a month or two, and they started to get subsidies directly from the old trees: carbon, nitrogen, and water. And so these young seedlings immediately had a head start (get it?) and could survive in this otherwise fairly dark forest, where photosynthetic rates were really, really low, with their tiny little needles. There’s no way these young seedlings could’ve survived without these subsidies in a forest.
Dr. Simard calls the mature hub trees in a forest “Mother Trees” — parenting, eldering, in a mode of mutuality and reciprocity, modeling what we also know to be true of genuinely flourishing human ecosystems. The most powerful parts of our social systems can be the elder that has aged and is guiding younger people or guiding their culture. And yet, they can be almost invisible in the hierarchy of our social system. e.g. We put our elders in nursing homes so that they can be “out of sight, out of
And the marvelous thing about her work, which continues to get more sophisticated and continues to turn up newer and newer astonishments, is that there was odd kind of reciprocal interdependence and cooperation across the species barrier, that Douglas firs and birches were actually involved in these sharing back and forth of essential nutrients. And that’s a whole new way of looking at forest. Human social systems and the forest ecosystems are built fundamentally in similar ways. The forest is teaching us the benefit of collaboration, reciprocity and mutuality.
These trees evolved long before we did. And these biological patterns of neural networks exist throughout nature. We’ve got to embrace our place in nature as one with nature for we are of nature.
“human” and “humus”, Definition of humus: n ~ “the dark organic material in soils, produced by the decomposition of vegetable or animal matter and forming the organic portion of soil that is essential to the fertility of the earth”
The word for human comes from the same root of “humus,” and interestingly also “humor.” Henry David Thoreau in Walden writes, “Shall I not have intelligence with the earth? Am I not partly leaves and vegetable?” — which is another way of saying I am “humus” myself.
Similarly, the Hebrew name, Adam, comes from the Hebrew word “adamah” which means “red earth” or “red mud” from which the first human is said to be formed.
Suzanne Simard is currently working with the Heiltsuk Indian Nation which is a combination of many nations. It has a very large territory in the Mid-Coast region of British Columbia. They are working with the Heiltsuk Nation by going to a number of watersheds that had different salmon runs. They want to understand the role of salmon in forest productivity, and building on work of the Aboriginal people who knew about these connections between salmon, trees, and people. Earlier Western science made discoveries that salmon nitrogen was inside of trees and plants and insects. They want to find out the inter-connective pathways of the self-healing properties of the
forest and their regenerative systems.
There is an incredible passage from her book: “We can think of an ecosystem of wolves, caribou, trees and fungi creating biodiversity just as an orchestra of woodwind, brass, percussion and string musicians assemble into a symphony.” There is a necessary wisdom in the give-and-take of nature. There is a quiet agreement of mutuality and extraordinary generosity. Whether it be human species, animal species, or plant species, they don’t live in isolation. It is a world of give-and-take. It is a relationship of silent agreements between species. We all need each other to create these healthy systems.
Dr. Suzanne Simard’s emphatically makes a point, “I can’t emphasize enough of the importance of recognizing that the community, the ecosystem, is all about working together in cooperation, mutuality and generosity for optimal life.” Her research is a groundbreaking discovery that will make paradigm shift in our consciousness which will make an impact on how we relate to the nature and our planet.
Genesis 1:11-12 ~ God saw that it was good
11 Then God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees on the earth bearing fruit after their kind with seed in them”; and it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed after their kind, and trees bearing fruit with seed in them, after their kind; and God saw that it was good.