Soul Care: Gazing at Trees

Article found at YouthWorker

Nicolas Herman was born in 1614 in eastern France. His family was extremely poor, which forced him to join the army. During his time in the Thirty Years’ War, Herman had an unusual experience. Staring and gazing at a tree with no leaves or fruit, somehow Nicolas intuitively sensed God’s redeeming grace and love, knowing the tree eventually would spring forth with new life—and his life could be transformed the same as the tree’s.

Nicolas Herman is known today as Brother Lawrence.

Following his death, friends put together his letters and crafted the writings into a book, which is today one of the most popular and profound books ever written, The Practice and Presence of God.

Brother Lawrence’s journey began as he focused on a tree, doing the hard work of silence, prayer and a radical discipline of thankfulness. As Brother Lawrence worked in the kitchen of the monastery, he came to see the beauty of seeing Jesus in every moment.

Practicing the Presence of God

Whether working in a kitchen, preparing a sermon, or cleaning one’s house, Lawrence believed no matter how big or small the task, “we can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.”

Concepts such as being prostrate on the ground, gazing at trees, listening for Jesus in the now, all can be difficult. Or maybe we have made it too complex. Try this: Go outside and simply listen to the birds chirping. While you’re in a boring meeting, start looking for the presence of God. As you wake up, shower, wash the dishes, and get ready for bed, see Jesus in every moment.

Brother Lawrence writes, “I began to live as if there were no one save God and me in the world.” Now, personally speaking, that is hard, to see only God and me.

Yet, there is something to it. Matthew 17 records the Transfiguration narrative in which Jesus takes Peter, James and John to the mountain alone…that is until two great leaders of the past show up, namely Moses and Elijah. Peter thought it would be a good idea to honor Jesus, Moses and Elijah when suddenly a voice from the cloud spoke. “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.” Fear gripped the disciples, and they hit the ground. Jesus told them to get up and have no fear.

I love verse 8: “And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.”

They saw only Jesus. It seems as if this Bible passage is what Brother Lawrence was speaking of: the ability to tune out all distractions, all hindrances, and only see Jesus.

Is this a hard thing for you do? Why not try an experiment when you wake up tomorrow morning? Set your heart and mind to see only Jesus. Start with baby steps. Ask Jesus to be present. Invite Him to the breakfast table. Read a devotional. Sing in the shower. Abstain from talk radio on the way to work. Slow down. Settle down. Meditate on a passage of Scripture. Take a slow walk in the woods. A famous line from Dallas Willard says, “Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” Eliminate hurry, ruthlessly.

How do we care for our souls? How do we eliminate hurry? I suggest you begin with gazing at a tree. Somehow, in a mysterious way, end up only seeing Jesus. As Brother Lawrence indicated, our souls only need Jesus.

David Olshine is the director and professor of Youth Ministry, Family and Culture at Columbia International University in South Carolina. He is the author of the new Studies on the Go: James, 1-2 Peter and 1-3 John (Zondervan/Youth Specialties).

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