Tuesday, 27 February 2018


People from Nineveh. Perhaps that should be Ninivans. or Ninis.

I don't know.

But they came to my mind today when I had to speak to a builder about a tree.

Where we live, often people are careless and ignorant about trees. 

They do not realise that trees are protective like angels, keeping watch, guarding against drought and flood, slowing down the movement of water through the landscape. They do not know that all the fertility of the Earth is vested in the thin layer of compost wrapped about, that the plants and microbes and micelliae (is that the right word? Micellium; plural) inhabit. More than that, they do not know that trees are ensouled as is all life, and stand in covenant relationship with the God of life. They do not know that, if you must cut a tree (which is unwise except in clear necessity)  you have to let it know in good time, so it can withdraw life from the limb you mean to cut. 

Just by our home is a most beautiful tree. It has many colours, and flowers.

A few days ago, men came to work on the place where it lives. Rather than work around it, suddenly they cut off two of its branches. Two of us, inside the house, thought they heard a woman scream, and came out to see what had happened: but it was not a human, it was the tree. 

After, the tree was deeply shocked, and very angry. So were we, but not as much as the tree.

One of us quietly asked the tree, "Are you okay?" And a sudden wild gust of wind arose and slammed the gate by where the tree lives. That tree was not okay.

When the builders came with their great lorry and began unloading huge things by our garden, I was troubled for our tree, the generous and sturdy greengage that grows in front of our house. So I spoke to the builders, and explained they must be careful of our tree, because we care about it very much.

The man said to me that yes, they had "had to" cut off two branches from the other tree nearby. And then I knew it had bit into his soul even though he didn't realise it — there is a primeval place in him that also heard the tree scream and felt its shock and knew what they did was wrong. It had stuck in his mind. But he is shut off from it by cultural blindness.

And when I was thinking about it, the ignorance and carelessness of human beings, Nineveh came to my mind. In the book of Jonah. You know?

"But the Lord God said, 'You care about this tree that you have not tended. You didn't make it grow. It came, and it will go. Shouldn't I also care about this great city of Nineveh with all these thousands of people who can't tell their right hand from their left — not to mention all the animals?'"

My paraphrase.

And I liked that perspective. These people, with their carelessness and ignorance, you could well say they cannot tell their right hand from their left, muddling through, no idea of the meaning and consequences of their choices and actions. And then there are, too, all the animals — the badger who potters along the road after dark, the fox who comes for his supper at dusk, the seagulls who tap on the window, the pair of childless jackdaws who love each other truly and huddle close together on the chimney stacks and ridge-tiles, talking quietly. And the crows, each one with a unique call, an individual personality.

Should not God care about all of these, as well as about that one tree? And should not I?

God also cares about the tree. God saw, and heard it scream when they cut it. 

I do not know how God holds us in a bag of love; so many suffer terribly. Think of the refugees from Syria living in the woods above Calais, persecuted and riven out by the French police this bitter weather, and the children turned away from England even after we had promised to take them in. When you brood on the world there is so much terror and sorrow, and I am ashamed that my country causes a great deal of it; knowingly, without caring. So I do not really know how it is that God's bag of love holds us all inside; but I know that it does. I know that I am here to further the reach of love.

God also loves trees, not human beings only. And trees — not human beings only — also love God. It is important to take time and trouble in our dealings with trees.

But one has to be patient with these Ninivans who do not know their right hand from their left, even when they saw off the branches on which we all sit. Should not God care about them, even when their ignorance means our downfall?


BLD in MT said...

Spot on. Well put.

Pen Wilcock said...



Ganeida said...

Our neighbours are neat & tidy people ~ so they cut down all their trees. I wept for those trees. We watched them grow from saplings into strong sturdy trees. Now we have multiple nests in our trees & hordes of birds ~ & they are envious. *sigh* God is not a neat & tidy sort of gardener.

Pen Wilcock said...

Yes! There's a good joke about someone saying to a gardener "Your garden is so beautiful — all these flowers and shrubs and herbs. Isn't the Almighty's creative handiwork wonderful?" And the gardener saying, "Yes. You should have seen it when the Almighty had it all to himself."


BLD in MT said...

That's a great joke, Pen. Matt will love it.

Pen Wilcock said...


Rebecca said...

Ninivites, maybe? (I DO smile at the thought of Ninivans, though.....)
And trees--so harboring and helpful in their place. So destructive in the hands of a storm. So expensive to maintain properly. I've seen too many planted too close for comfort by enthusiastic home owners that through no fault of their own are deemed "nuisances"...Trees. Yet another complication

Pen Wilcock said...

Ninevite! Sounds like something savoury to spread on toast!

Recently, I've changed my view about organic substances and architecture. In our town, where the houses huddle close together and a great many people have pets, plus we have lots of urban foxes, we get animal droppings on the pavements (US — sidewalks).

I used to think this was a problem, and I still do, except what I consider to be the nature of the problem has changed. Where I once thought the problem was the animal excrement, now I think the problem is the pavement (sidewalk). As I see it now, the earth is always providing the materials for the layer of fertile compost on which all life depends, and Earth never stops dong this even when it s inconvenient. In nature, animal droppings are most valuable, rotting to a rich and fertile growing medium; the problem arises when the impermeable stone/concrete/tarmac layer interferes with this process; halts it. Then the dung becomes problematic. But the problem comes not from the dung but the concrete.

It's the same with the snow we have now. It's regarded as a problem in our streets; people slip over and hurt themselves, ice accumulates where the snow is packed and trodden, melts and refreezes etc. But snow is never a problem in the same way where it lies on a natural surface — grass, moss, leaves. Once again, the problem is the concrete. We are creating the problem. Without us the problem doesn't exist. Our world is becoming so arrogantly humano-centric that anything interfering with our pleasures or routines immediately assumes the aspect of a problem.

And with trees — it's just as you say — people actually plant them there, and then decree the tree to be a problem!

Anonymous said...

Oh dear! trees screaming when they are cut - now I feel awful about my (necessary) garden pruning. Wonder too, about pulling up my carrots and butchering them!! Please reassure Pen.

Pen Wilcock said...

Here's a wonderful book:

Last year, I felt very guilty when I took down my bean haulm. It was dying down, but I think I should have left it until it had properly died. It had given so generously of itself all summer. I could have let it just finish off by itself. There are parts of the plants, of course, that are meant to be consumed as food — the bodies of fruit are intended as such.

Mainly what we do here is tell the plants. We cut our roses back fairly hard — they'd break the fences they lean on if we didn't. And we cut back the herb bushes too. But we tell them. We explain what we're going to do and why, so they have time to get ready. And we bless them, and thank them for what they do. When I did up the dandelions in the front garden, I explain to them that I do love and admire dandelions, and they do a grand job, but this isn't the right place. I thank them for all that dandelions do in the world.

Non-human species live better in the now, and integrate death better than we do. They know how to let go. But they need time — some advance warning.

There's been some really interesting work on how tree communicate recently — there were two or three books came out about the same time. I can;t remember for sure, but I think this was the one that looked really good:

There's also this interesting TED talk which is only about 18 minutes long, so not too arduous to watch:

And, from way back in the 1970s, this wonderful book about the beginnings of the garden at Findhorn:

Then there's Rupert Sheldrake's work . . .

There does seem to be an inherent and inescapable violence in life, but also a way to walk through with gentleness and reverence, holding in loving awareness the living presence of the sacred in the myriad living beings with whom we share the earth.

Anonymous said...

I absolutely love your last sentence in these comments Pen. It sums up our existence, surely, and how to navigate our way.
I've never thought of trees screaming before, but there are *lots* of things I haven't thought about...and I agree completely about how we have brought so many problems upon ourselves through our need to control, sanitise, beautify. Ironic really. I smile regularly at my scruffy allotment - my borrowed patch of land - which gives a home to toads, bees, bugs and grubs as well as growing beautiful fruit, salad and veg. My neighbouring plot is supremely tidy, with not a weed to be seen, but which has been doused twice yearly in pesticides. Yum. Pesticide dressing anyone?!
I tell myself we're all different and there's room for everyone, but I do wish others would try to respect what you so beautifully call the ' sacred...myriad living beings'. And then there might be a balance, which is what I think was always intended.
P.S Have just read your Lenten book. At times I laughed and, at others,covered the page with my hand and wept. Thankyou.

Anonymous said...

Hi Penelope,
I love trees too! I find gazing at them meditative, their often gentle, subtle movements fascinating. The way that sometimes a tree will catch the wind and tremble as if God-selected when others around them are holding still. I have had the immense privilege of living in an oak wood for thirty plus years. I would have trouble relocating, I'm thinking. A book on my reading list for awhile now is "The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate, Discoveries from a Secret World," by Peter Wohlleben and Mike Grady.

Anekha said...

My spiritual experiences of recent years have been along this line. My second born was given to me... I felt his spirit come rushing out of the earth and into me, and knew I was pregnant. We say he is made of mountains... and since then, like a blessing for bearing this special child I have felt the earth and heard the trees... The island I had moved to... the land there wailed, there was a rising cry of grief and rage for the loss of its chosen people, the result of genocide, and for the loss of forests of trees, the devastation of mining and the poisoning of the waters. It was a revelation, a deep teaching, and a curse of sorts. Nothing was destined to thrive there. People, only those with the most hardened calloused souls survived, the sensitive, eventually went mad. Most people suffered an unspoken malaise, a despression they couldn't pinpoint a cause for. We made peace with the anger and rage and grief of the land. We, they call it singing up country, in Australia. And we learned to live in a state of dadirri or to be in our dreaming. So we were blessed and safe, but we couldn't handle feeling the way this deep spiritual imbalance was ravaging the souls of our neighbours and all the people around us. There was such a deep feeling that the land wanted everyone to leave it alone in its grief, that no one should live there. So we left.
Since then, I still talk to the earth, and I have a very different understanding of God now. And it makes me challenge, despite all the wisdom of written religions, the traditions of raising men up to the status of God.

Anekha said...

I also believe that concrete, is souless rock. It has no feeling, it's dead. You can't feel or hear the earth through it. It stifles the earths power and majesty. Just about everything still has some living spirit element, rocks, bricks, wood, but concrete doesn't, I find it creepy.

Pen Wilcock said...

Hi Deb — I love the sound of your allotment with its microcosm of life. And I'm so glad you liked the wilderness book; makes me happy. xx

Hi DMW — Yes, I have that book on my to-read list as well! How wonderful to live in a wood. My friend Rebecca in New Jersey also lives in a wood, and what a beautiful place it is; full of grace and mystery. I was blessed to visit her there in the snow, deep in the winter a few years ago. Unforgettable. xx

Hi Anekha — What you say is so interesting! I am intrigued by you son, the child of mountains whose soul flew like the wind. What a strong spirit he must be. And yes to all you say about how the land stands in grief for these outrages. That's also a very good observation about the concrete. Stone, by contrast, is full of soul. But you have to go slowly to keep step with the soul of stone. xx

Southern Catholic said...

Have you read the Hidden Messages in Water?


It is a wonderful book full of photographs of water crystals and their reaction to positive vs. negative thoughts.

Blurb from Amazon
Masaru Emoto is an internationally renowned Japanese researcher who has gained worldwide acclaim. Emoto's research has visually captured the structure of water at the moment of freezing, and through high-speed photography he has shown the direct consequences of destructive thoughts and the thoughts of love and appreciation of the formation of water crystals. The revelation that our thoughts can influence water has profound implications for our health and the well-being of the planet.

Pen Wilcock said...

Ah yes — I know Emoto's work well, ad have had that book in the past. I like to stop the number of things around me from accumulating (problems arise where things accumulate), so I don't have it now, but it is wonderful and illuminating work!

Anekha said...

Dear Pen,
We called our middle child, my second son, Bodhi. It means enlightenment, because I felt the spiritual journey of his birth was such an enlightening time for me. Mostly he is just this lovely little boy, but every now and then his eyes flash and he says something bizarrely profound. I think he will become an amazing young man, but he certainly marches to the beat of his own drum. He is not one to be corralled or contained.
When I am feeling lost or low or dulled by the tedious monotony of dishes etc... I remind myself that I can speak to mountains.
I am so grateful to my indigenous friend who taught me to sing up country. You tell the earth who you are, where your come from, who your people and lineage are, and ask to be safe and taught the rules of this place as your travel through. And the earth gladly tells you its past, its stories. You get to know the boundaries, the paths people have travelled, any significant events, especially sorry places or past traumas. It tells you how it's suffering and how it wants to be. One of the things that happens a lot here is the forests are regrow the, they are young and lack leadership. I have learned from the forests they would usually have a mother tree, that would guide them and teach them and lead them. The forest does not thrive and lacks vitality when there is no mother tree. I have also felt how the power of trees is taken away somewhat as the branches are hacked or trimmed badly. Many of the great tropical fig trees in my area suffer that. But they also feel great joy when children play under them... all trees adore children.

Pen Wilcock said...

Thank you, Anekha. Singing up country is not something I'd heard about before — I'm going to find out more about it. Wisdom direct from the source is something we urgently need now, to guide us through the muddle we've fallen into, and keep us steady on our path, light still shining. We do well to get beyond the arrogance of our traditions with their limitations, and gather with the wisdom of all species.

Anekha said...

Dear Pen,
I don't know much that is written about singing up country in Indigenous Australian traditions, but only what my friend taught me and I have experienced. It has gifted me a feeling of belonging and home. I have struggled with feeling an outsider, and a lifetime of change and no sense of home but now I feel I belong to the earth who I will always be close to. When you sing up country the animals and birds feel safe with you and trust you and will come close too. We have a tiny empty patch of lawn behind our house, it has one tree. My sons sit under it and have brought the tree back from the brink. It was sad and unhealthy and now it is thriving. I think trees get lonely. And the birds have come. We putout a little dish of seed and the birds come for a feed, and sometimes just to say hello and look in our window. Some days we have had more than 60 birds in our back yard. There can be over 7 different species, but our favourite are the different types of parrot. They bring me a lot of joy and I feel a kinship between them and my baby girl who was born here at home. She will run out on her baby legs and talk her own language to them and they chatter back and don't fly away.
Another spiritual concept from Australian Indigenous traditions is called Dadirri. I have included a link to a talk by a prominent elder that explains it. I have felt that sense of connection, that deep listening. I think western religious ideas of prayer focus on us talking to God, but Dadirri is really about us listening to God. I have always found prayer a little tricky as I was not raised with the tradition, and I REALLY struggled with scripted prayer or praying other people's words. But I can listen to God with full reverence, sincerity and an open heart. The simplicity of it and the power has made all the creed and dogma and traditions fade away. I am grateful for the wisdom I learned, but now I don't feel the need... I know I have lost faith, and though there is a grief there about that, about losing community, I miss expressing my spirituality openly, I miss praying with others, I miss celebrating life. But I feel like instead I have belief and it feels more powerful than Faith. There are no bells and whistles... Truth is.... irrelevant. There is just God and me and the worlds beyond.

Pen Wilcock said...

Thank you so much! xx