Today is Arbor Day, a time to plant trees and appreciate the gifts trees give to all beings. With their roots in the earth and their crowns in the heavens, trees connect the physical and spiritual worlds in ways we find difficult to understand. And there is still so much to learn about trees, one of the wonders of God’s creation.
Trees are ancient symbols of nourishment, transformation, liberation, and union. In ancient Celtic beliefs, all trees are sacred and are individuals, whether they stand alone, in groves, or in forests. Trees appear in all of the books of the Bible from the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil standing in the Garden of Eden in Genesis to the oaks, cedars, and olives recorded in the other books.
Trees have been important in other cultures. Buddha sat under a Bodhi tree and gained enlightenment. The Bodhi and Banyan are still sacred to the Hindus and Sikhs. The Native American Sundance is performed around a sacred Cottonwood tree. Trees play a prominent role in every spiritual tradition on earth.
The oldest trees in the world are the bristlecone pines, some of which live to be 5,000 years old. The aspen pando in southern Utah is the oldest living organism in the world covering 108 acres. The largest tree in the world is the giant sequoia in Northern California. It is estimated to weigh 642 tons, the equivalent of 107 elephants. The sequoias date back to 200 million years. The rarest tree is found on Three Kings Island off the coast of New Zealand. There is only one single tree left of Pennrantia baylisianna. It was discovered in 1945.
Trees are also good for the soul. In addition to being an essential part of the ecosystem of Earth, exchanging carbon dioxide and oxygen, so we can breathe, they provide inspiration and beauty and lift our spirits. Trees are now believed to direct rain fall and have rudimentary eyes.
The purpose of this discourse on trees is to show that human beings have so much more to learn about ourselves and our relationship with this wondrous planet we live on. We are more similar to trees than we can imagine. Our feet are like the roots holding us to the ground and our torso like the trunk standing upright, and our arms and head like the branches stretching to the skies.
What else can we learn about trees? On an energetic level we are transformed when we are next to trees. It is not something science can explain, so it must be something spiritual. Perhaps we are connecting to the Divine as part of the Creation of all life. Perhaps we have forgotten how to listen with our inner ears, how to meditate with our heats, how to just be in the present moment and breathe. All of these are spiritual practices we can learn from trees.
An interesting ancient practice that is seeing a renewal in modern times is forest bathing. There are even certified forest bathing guides and forests are now called “therapeutic landscapes.” Forest bathing is proving to help people heal from surgeries faster, releases stress, lowers blood pressure, boosts immune systems, and reduces depression. Trees growing by school windows help students score higher on tests and increase graduation levels. In neighborhoods filled with trees, the physical, mental, and emotional health of the residents improves.
So, helping to preserve and protect trees is more than just planting a tree to landscape your back yard or make a park more inviting. Trees are essential parts of God’s creation bringing us peace and harmony and improving our lives physically and spiritually.
May you look at the wonders of spring trees as they burst into bloom and liven the landscape with greenery and remember that without the trees we would not exist. Thank you, God, for the trees.
The Rev. Arlyn Macdonald is the senior minister of the Spiritual Awareness Center, dean of the Spiritual Development Center and author of three books on spiritual development.