Over lockdown I started getting slowly obsessed with yew trees. I spent lots of time reading about Celtic Spirituality for an assignment on my Spiritual Direction course. I was drawn to the wonder of these ancient trees, these places around which sacred gatherings were held and around which churches were built, recognising these ancient meeting places and their significance in peoples stories.
Yew trees can last a long time, during lockdown I visited a 1,600 year old one just down the road from us in Wilmington. Despite the boys disappointment in not being able to climb it I was enthralled with this marker of time.
Each morning I usually go for a walk in our local area, I walk for an hour, some days in profound thought, some in quiet contemplation and, let’s be honest here, some in boredom as I put one foot in front of the other.
One day I stumbled across a part of the area I live in which contained pine trees. We live right on the border of the South Downs National Park, not an area known for its pine trees. A quick google search (I love that I could google ‘why are there pine trees in Patcham?’ and find the answer) told me that the person who had built the estate had planted them. Hidden away in the undergrowth I came across an empty patch of ground encircled by a yew tree. I stood in it and looked to the sky. I walked around it, grinned a bit and realised I’d found something new in this finding God in our natural world journey I’ve been on all my life.
I love the Celtic way of praying circling prayers, of asking the three members of the Trinity to surround and protect us. Yew trees have now become to me symbols of that presence of the divine. God with us in this world.
When God speaks to the prophet Hosea God says ‘I am like a green pine tree’. I love the symbolism of that statement, the eternal evergreen nature of God, the bearing fruit year after year freshness of a tree that stands tall throughout the centuries. I’m glad God links themselves to these eternal images, reminding me that I am very small part of a very large picture.
A month or so ago we planted a yew tree in our front garden, every time I look at it I am reminded of this eternal God who spans the ages, who has held us this far, and will carry us on. We planted our Ebenezer (the reminder of God’s help symbol, not the guy called eeezer who is a main geezer) to remind us of God’s help through this last year. As we journey on into the strangeness of the months ahead of us, we walk with knowledge that we are not on our own in this journey.
I still try and walk out each morning to notice where I am at the start of each day, to say hello to God and ask for awareness of what God is up to as we walk into the day together. I love walking past familiar yew trees in the woods near us, I love holding out my hands to their branches, reminding myself of the nearness of my Maker. I love discovering new ones, one Saturday I laughed out loud as I found a path full of yew trees up in some local woods, I gasped in awe at the abundance and tasted the abundant love of our Creator wooing me again.
What are your ebenezers in these times? What marker points might there to place along the journey? What speaks to you most of the presence of God with us?