Since it is through a tree that we have fallen from intimacy from God, and since it is through a tree that such intimacy is restored, it seems fitting that we might imagine our soul--who God imagines us to be-- as a tree.
This tree springs from the seed of gratitude, is planted in the soil of love, and when nurtured with faith and hope, it will grow into who God wants us to be, for which Christ is the model.
If you can, spend a few moments outside. Feel the sun warm your skin and let the wind dance around you. Listen to the sounds that fill the air--the sounds of birds singing, the low hum of nearby traffic, or even the loud clattering of a passing "L" train.
"God looked at everything he had made, and found it very good." (Genesis 1:31) Breathe in everything you feel, see, hear, and smell--these all reflect God's goodness. And as you exhale, add yourself to that world.
Share yourself for a few moments, until your mind feels calm and centered.
When ready, open your heart to the Word of God:
But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.
Imagine yourself sitting under the shade of this tree. Feel her bark press into your back. Listen to her sing softly to you as the wind blows through her leaves. Listen closely--what does she sing to you?
You have been planted in the rich soil of love. But it's not your "small" self, that part of you that is grateful for things or the part of you that desires things that you think you cannot live without. No, it is your true self--that part of you that is grateful for no thing, but is grateful for everything--this is the gratitude of being.
Now let your seed grow.
The ground is watered first by hope. This is not mere wishful thinking. Rather, hope is the expectation of God's love. Spend some time in this hope. Reflect on the times when you have desired to really know God's love--not intellectually, but experientially; not head knowledge, but heart knowledge. What feelings have been brought up by this desire? Patience? Joy? Peace? Or has it brought frustration and despair?
A seedling finally sprouts from the ground, the seedling of mature faith. This is not faith defined by certainty dogmas or doctrines. Rather, this is faith that St. Teresa of Avila described as the loving knowledge of God. This faith allows you to critically examine--without judgment--the patience, joy, peace, frustration, and despair that grow out of your desire to know God's love. It is a faith that allows you to be honest about who you are and who you want to be. What do you discover about yourself?
This critical self-examination keeps the weeds from robbing the nutrients from the seedling. With patience, the seedling will grow into a sapling. Identify those times that cause you to be impatient. How do you react? How do your reactions prevent you from being who you want to be?
These examinations must always be done with compassion--not with condemnation, not with judgment. Otherwise, you will rip the sapling out of the ground, and it will die. But if you continue to nurture your sapling with patience and compassion, you will grow into a tree whose leaves are always green, a tree that has no fear of drought, a tree that never fails to bear fruit.
Imagine that your feet are the roots of this tree. Feel your toes reach into the ground. As you inhale, imagine "breathing" through your toes; just as the roots of the tree bring in water and nutrients through the soil, imagine that your toes are drawing in the breath you need to live.
Let the breath flow up from your toes through your legs and into your torso, just as water being pulled up into the trunk of the tree. Visualize the oxygen being pulled into the organs of your torso: your intestines, you liver, your stomach, your heart, your lungs. Feel them become saturated with oxygen.
As you exhale, let your breath flow from your torso and out toward your fingers through your arms and out through the top of your head--these are the leaves of the tree.
Continue to breathe like a tree for as long as you feel comfortable. As you breath, allow your attention to focus more and more on the breath itself and not your body.
If distractions disturb your mind, imagine that they are like the wind blowing through the limbs of the tree: the limbs of this tree do not catch the wind, but sway back and forth as the wind blows through them. So too your mind--let any thoughts just blow through.
Slowly return your attention to your body. Wiggle your fingers and toes; roll your head slightly. Fill in your lungs with a deep breath, and return your attention to your surroundings.
Close with a prayer of gratitude.
Throughout the week, spend some time praying this examen at the end of every day to check on the progress of the sapling:
- Recall that you are in God's presence by saying a prayer or by reading a short verse from Scripture.
- Ask the Holy Spirit to point out those attachments that prevent you from loving God with your whole heart, mind, and soul. Exhale strongly, imagining that you are blowing those attachments away.
- Walk through the your day, moment by moment. Specifically, identify times when you felt hopeful. That is, when did you notice a desire or longing to know God's loving kindness? What feelings accompanied this desire? Peace? Joy? Frustration? Anxiety?
- Pick one of those moments and bring it before Jesus in conversation. Imagine talking to him as you would your best friend. Maybe it's over a cup of coffee or on a brisk walk around the track at the local gym. What does Jesus tell you about these moments? What insights does he share with you? How do you thank him?
- Finish the prayer with a prayer of gratitude. Give thanks for the grace God has shared with you, and resolve to make those changes necessary to grow into the person God imagines you to be.
May the Lord bless you with health, harmony, happiness, and peace.