Ever since I read the book The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben (Wohl-lee-ben) and learned that trees could feel the bite of an insect into one of their leaves, I have been horrified by human carvings in the trunks of trees. If a tree can feel the bite of an insect into a leaf, how much more would a tree feel the knife’s carving into their trunk? And, while a tree can produce secretions to protect the caterpillar from chomping down for a whole buffet, there is little defense against the brutality of the human carver. Even the communications sent to other trees to warn them of the potential danger offer little hope of preparing for such a violent encounter.
If the thought of carving into a tree feels harmless enough, perhaps it is helpful to think of tree bark as similar to our skin. The outer layer of bark contains dead tissue that acts as a protective layer for the vital vascular system that makes up the inner bark. When carving a live tree, the blade is likely to cut through the outer bark and cut into the inner bark, containing living tissue carrying nutrients to all parts of the tree (leaves, branches, etc.). If this vital vascular structure is damaged, it cuts off the supply of nutrients causing it to starve to death eventually. Wherever the cut has penetrated the inner bark systems, those areas will die, which can ultimately kill the entire tree.
While science should be convincing enough to deter future amateur carver, it is more likely that a spiritual conversion is required. My ritual for blessing carved trees was a response from a sense of spiritual connection and sacred sorrow for the pain my species’ inflicts, and continues to inflict, on Creation.
For the past year now, as Fiona and I walk the trails, we pause at the trees scarred with meaningless symbols to lay our hands, lips, foreheads on the site of sadism to offer acknowledgment of the harm done and to contribute compassionate energy for the extended process of healing. While it may find support in scientific reasoning, it is a ritual that relies on an outward expression of an internal awakening to the stunning sensitivity of the species and a sacred intelligence present beyond our understanding.
It is this spiritual connection that hijacks the purpose of the hike. Once set on arriving at a predetermined destination, the journey now softens its edge and slows its pace to embrace the possibility of restoration. Restoration not only for the healing of the tree herself but for the healing of the relationship between their species and our own. A reorientation of approach by which another species is understood as a teacher, friend, and indispensable expression of Christ.
John 1: 1-9 introduces us to such a process of reorientation through the incarnation of Christ in Jesus. These first few verses in John take us from the preexistence and identity of the Word to the Word’s role in Creation and the effect of the Word on what was created. At its essence, this passage is a reorientation into the divinity of all things through the arrival of Christ in human form. A lesson that begins with the disclosure of the role of the Word in all Creation. A lesson that aligns the Word, and thus God and consequently Jesus, in the unity of all Creation.
John 1:1-9 defines discipleship in this cosmic context; Jesus as a starting place for a journey that reunites the human species with the full presence of Christ in Creation. This Logos, woven into the DNA of divinity, exists as a way of speaking about the creative plan of God that governs the world. So our role in the presence of Logos is one of learning to witness, to discern, the presence of the Word as an ongoing, life-giving presence within Creation. The incarnation of Christ holds the potential for a corporate baptism as enlightened people capable of refreshing our spiritual insights toward a vision of humanity at peace with Creation and Creation at peace with itself.
John 1: 1-9 links the comprehension of Jesus with the awakening to Logos, and the participation in the divine creative process is unfolding in Creation. If we are accustomed to understanding Spirit by comparing Spirit to wind, perhaps the best comparison for Logos is present in the mycorrhizal networks active just beneath the forest floors’ surfaces.
These mycorrhizal networks, cleverly known as the wood-wide web, are a tree’s most important means of staying connected to other trees. A mycorrhiza is a symbiotic association between a green plant and a fungus. The plant makes organic molecules such as sugars by photosynthesis, supplies them to the fungus, and the fungus supplies to the plant water and mineral nutrients, such as phosphorus, taken from the soil.
This symbiotic association is responsible for connecting vegetation in an intimate network that allows sharing an enormous amount of information and goods. Through these living networks, trees can face immense challenges when they can communicate and cooperate through these mycorrhizal networks.
Just as Logos places humans in the creative order, so does the mycorrhiza networks’ link trees in Creation. As Peter Wollheben explains in The Hidden Life of Trees, “a tree is not a forest. On its own, a tree cannot establish a consistent local climate. It is at the mercy of wind and weather. But together, many trees create an ecosystem that moderates extremes of heat and cold, stores a great deal of water and generates a great deal of humidity.”
Logos connects man to humanity, which communicates with humanity our role in the divine creative plan for all of Creation. Tied into the ongoing conversation of the Word present in Creation, humans create sustainable systems that reconcile broken relationships and participate in healing a battered world.
Ironically, comprehension of Logos is wholly dependent on our acceptance of perpetual mystery. The surrender to the eternal unknowing trains us to see everything as a sacred teacher connecting us to the incarnate Christ. Connected to the lifeforce of Logos, we begin to see as God sees, to live as Jesus lived, becoming a cooperative presence in the ongoing, life-giving work of Logos.
W discover that finding our place in Creation requires a self-initiated exile from the inhabited patterns of domination. Logos leads to the decentralization of humanity to learn from and respond to the Christ present in the totality of Creation around us. Logos results in the re-membering of humanity’s placement in the Creation community, which can only be taught to us through the relational, incarnational nature of life all around us.
In 2015 Dr. Suzanne Simard launched the Mother Trees Project with the intent of exploring how connections and communication between trees, particularly below-ground connections between Douglas-fir Mother Trees and seedlings, could influence forest recovery and resilience following various harvesting and regeneration treatments.
Simard’s research led to the designation of Mother Trees. A finding that identified that the biggest, oldest trees held the greatest and consequently played the most significant ecological role in the forest’s resilience. The research revealed that Mother Trees help seedlings regenerate, reduce losses of carbon and biodiversity from the ecosystems, and play an essential role in connecting trees in the forest through mycorrhizal networks.
As climate change increases the forest’s aridity and temperature, the dominant species of tree in Dr. Simard’s research, the Douglas-fir, is slowly being replaced by the Ponderosa Pine. Because Douglas Firs are one of the species of trees most sensitive to climate change, soon they will no longer be the dominant species and will be replaced by Ponderosa Pines.
The less expected report from Dr. Simard’s research came with the finding that when a Douglas Fir Mother Tree is injured or dying, she will dump all her carbon into the network to sustain the Ponderosa Pine’s roots. At the same time, all her defense enzymes are upregulated in the seedlings of the Ponderosa Pines. Years of research revealed the altruistic wisdom of an underground network through which Douglas Firs cooperates with deciduous trees to ensure the forest’s resilience in response to climate change.
This is Logos. The connectivity within Creation facilitates cooperative relationships and forms creative solutions for the divine creative order’s resiliency. Not one piece is central, but all exist for the survival of the whole. A corporate intelligence communicating the placement and performance through which the sustainability of the whole becomes incarnate. Christ present in all things repeatedly resurrected in the re-membering of the created order and the response of re-placement within.
We need a massive unlearning and complete repentance for our approach to Creation as a commodity to be consumed for our gain. A process that rejects the notion of Creation as a blank slate waiting for our carvings and resounds in the echo of an eternal Logos revealing Creation as the source of sacred healing worthy of our respect and relationship.
In a season of new beginnings, in the wake of the arrival of the incarnate Christ, may the Word once spoken be witnessed once more in the healing rituals of our species in Creation. May the ancient lessons on resilience demonstrated in forests’ fungal connectivity strengthen our commitment to the irreplaceable practice of connectional life.
My this be the Epiphany that awaits us in the weeks to come.
That our patterns of domination and intellectual superiority have been misguided and self-destructive. These false doctrines have resulted in a suicidal relationship with the planet we live on and a chasm between ourselves and the cosmic Christ we worship. A faith-filled commitment to witness the Christ present in all things inspires a lifestyle of repentance. An adjustment in perspective that births in us an incarnate confession that just because a particular species or ecological system does not serve our purposes, does not mean that it does not serve the purposes of Logos. That humanity is called to a constant adjustment of our goals to align with the Logos. And that identification of the Christ in all of Creation, this labor of alignment with the life-giving Logos, is a spiritual practice that swells out of a deep sense of grief and a relentless hope for reconciliation. Amen.