The Well-Being of the Whole

Ah, what am I that these my friendsShould minister to me so graciously?
From “The Comfort of the Woods” by Amos Russell Wells

The sequoias of King’s Canyon in California cannot help but elicit a blend of awe and comfort, the paradox of emotions I also feel in a known encounter with God.  In the presence of sequoias we remember we are small and not the center but rather part of an amazing and complex wholeness of creation.   These trees do minister to us when our souls ache from self-focus, loneliness or lack of purpose. 

Now these trees are dying in the millions by last year’s and this year’s forest fires with flames that reach a hundred feet high.  Fire long has been a part of the workings of the forest, but not this sort of fire which brings massive destruction.  The climate is out of balance for sequoias, for humans and for the twenty-three species now declared extinct joining many others.  

As a human I marvel at the ways we now know trees communicate with one another and pump water from below to above with actions similar to a very slow heartbeat.  Importantly I marvel at how the many flora and fauna of the forest work together for the well-being of the whole.  The forest is where I so often find God and know I am part of an interconnected web of life not a single self-willed person from a dominant species.

This week and beyond I invite us each one to consider the well-being of the whole before we act or speak.  So many arguments going on today about how we live together, especially in the time of covid and in the time of racial injustice, seem to focus on the individual rather than the whole community.  

So, ..

—when each is deciding about being vaccinated, please consider the well-being of others, and right now the numbers and anecdotal evidence point to vaccinated people protecting the community and not just themselves.

—when each is considering status, and who might belong where, let us recall the deep humanity in each one and the value of each to the entire community.

—when we consider how to garden, when to drive and other decisions affecting plant and animal life and weather, let us consider the whole of creation.

The Comfort of the Woods
by Amos Russel Woods

I understand my comrades of the woods,
And they know me completely. Not an oak
But is my brother, strong, reserved, sincere.
Along the happy, peaceful forest ways
That wind so intimately through the trees
I hold a calm communion with my friends,
The pines and gentle birches. Day by day
Insensibly the bond is closer drawn
With beckonings of branches, waftitures
Of subtle fragrance, melodies of birds,
Flickers of sunlight on the level leaves,
A thousand sweet enchantments pure and good.

This air dissolves my fretfulness and fears;
They fall into the green depths of the dell,
The cheery brooklet carries them away,
The bushes brush them off. I enter here
With furrowed brow and heavy-burdened heart;
But little unseen hands are softly pressed
Upon the frowns, and little unseen hands
Tug at the burdens till they all are gone.
Ah, what am I that these my friends
Should minister to me so graciously?
Do they not know my follies and my sin?
Yet with a mother's blind, forgiving love
They cleanse the foulnesses they will not see.
Nor do they only wait for me to come,
Withdrawn, expectant; but amid the din
Of cities, and upon the crowded streets,
I feel the brick and mortar fade away,
Aud find the woods around me once again,
Tall, shadowy, protecting, Once again
I hear the woodland murmurs like a hymn,
And on my troubled spirit lies once more
The peaceful benediction of the trees.

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