Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Tree Quaker

For some people, the great spiritual highs of their lives (apart from those “once in a while” things like graduating, getting married, having children etc), involve some form of religious worship, meditation, music or art. These things work for me too, but I can add one other form of spiritual involvement, enlightenment and pure joy to this list - the planting and growing of trees.

The joy comes not so much from the physical labour involved, as much as the pure beauty of them as they grow through the years, and the awareness of how long they will live. When I am dead, my plantings will live on after me, perhaps to irritate future generations or, I hope, delight them.  Any time when I have ten minutes to spare, I walk around the garden, just looking, and often touching the trees. To do this with a cup of tea in one hand on a sunny morning is as close to bliss as I can imagine.

A note for those who do not live in Britain or Ireland;   to successfully inhabit these damp and chilly isles on the western fringe of Europe, it is necessary to drink large quantities of hot tea. It is also advisable to learn to do as many things as possible with a cup of tea in one hand. If any job should require the use of both hands at once, then a cup of tea must be placed within nine inches of your leading hand for easy access. If, for instance, you are two-hand typing on a keyboard and the phone rings- then you can stop typing, reach for the phone with one hand and the tea with the other. With luck you can take a hot mouthful before speaking – if not, that accounts for the strange sounding, almost gurgling, ‘hello’ that you hear from the other end of the line!

When we first moved to our current house some eight years ago it had just three, established trees in the gardens. The gardens are sizable, consisting of the original land of a Victorian house, plus an old orchard that had been cleared and levelled by the previous owner. No sooner had the removal van moved on before I, spade in hand, had started planting. Within the first week I had added a mulberry, walnut and two apple trees; within a year several more joined these early members of the family, until, at the latest count, I had reached nineteen (not counting the original three) with two more on order for later on this autumn. Why?  Because I love every aspect of the tree - and the tree in all its forms is a wonderful thing to behold.

I find it no surprise that the original inhabitants of these isles, well before the introduction of Christianity, were tree worshippers. The Celts left very little in the way of written explanations of their beliefs, but we know that trees paid an important role in their lives. Trees are big and slow to grow.  We watch them set the pace for the seasons with bud, flower, leaf and fall; and we know that much of them can not be seen -  the roots of the tree reach deep into the darkness of the earth and draw up water and nutrients from the depths.  We love the products of the tree; fruit, nuts and wood and we love what the wood is used for; building timber, furniture, firewood and books. As if this were not enough, we should also remember that the tree gives beauty, form and structure to our natural and man-made landscapes.

Every few years or so I, for want of amusement, will do one of those on-line ‘which religion are you tests’.  Perhaps you have done the same yourself in an idle moment. First of all, I have to say, top marks for the people that set up the tests to differentiate between a ‘liberal Quaker’ and a ‘conservative Quaker’ - this is one of those things that keeps we Quakers talking for hours, but strangely enough doesn’t seem to set the rest of the world on fire. Secondly, they have produced a fairly well-constructed set of questions that avoid the obvious clichés about religious groups.

These are my top three results from the latest time I have tried this test.  (By the way, should you want to try this yourself, please find the link below);

Liberal Quakers 100%, Unitarian Universalism 97% Neo-Pagan 95%.

Well - no surprise for the first one.  I became a Quaker by convincement as a teenager.  Unitarian Universalism ... again no surprise - I have a deep interest in Unitarianism and have many ‘UU’ friends.  Quakers and Unitarians share much and (in the UK) have a long history of cooperation and common causes. It was the neo-paganism that surprised me. The surprise came not in the revelation that I might have the odd ‘pagan tendency’ but that the test was so good at picking this up! How could they know about the trees!

Before you get the idea that I am a tree worshipper, or that I dance (naked or otherwise) around the trees in my garden, let me clear matters up. I cite the words of the Celtic Christian monk Columbanus in my defence.  He said:
          “If you want to understand the Creator, understand created things”.
 He was right – as was the medieval philosopher Eriugena when he wrote:
           "God speaks to us through two books: the 'little book' of Scripture and the 'big book' of creation".
Whatever your religion, and whatever your scripture, you can enhance your life and grow your sprit with a little gardening.

(c) Ray Lovegrove 2011

The religion test
The Planting of a Tree ~ George Orwell
The Apple Tree (old hymn)
For the Oak Tree Within an Acorn  (prayer) ~

What's Hay Quaker up to this week?

The old poly-tunnel has had it's day and has been stripped of its outer layer;
  • old polythene bagged up for recycling
  • remaining green tomatoes, chillies and aubergines harvested for chutney making
  • ducks free to forage over the exposed floor for slugs and larvae
  • wooden frame to be dried for wood-burning stove
  • remaining hoops to be used for a fruit arch next summer
Nothing goes to waste!


  1. We need to plant trees if we are staying here. We have a lilac bush and an old apple tree, and a hedgerow of birch, spruce, and redbush (a cornus.)

  2. You are right Magdalena. Readers who do not have the space to plant trees for themselves might like to approach a school, home for the elderly or hospice and offer them a tree for their grounds.

    For those of you who do not know Magdelana's fine blog 'Anglican Plain' you will always find a link to it on the right hand side of this blog (in 'My Blog List'). It's always well worth reading!

  3. As a child I found a lone seedling in a barren alley. Inexplicably drawn to it, I dug it up and planted it in my apartment's courtyard. Miraculously it grew and grew each year into a full sized tree and I have never recovered from the wonderment of that process.

  4. I am enjoying both your blogs. "Met" you on facebook, trying to connect with likeminded folk. We have small acreage in WV, USA, and similar ideas. Some of the property is woods, but alot had been cleared over time to open fields, which now has 6 peach, 2 cherry. Around the house, some dogwood, serviceberry, an austrian pine, and more to come!
    Thanks for sharing your journey. Love the artwork and setup on both blogs!

  5. Thank you Rosa. I think that all children go through that joy of growing something from seed. The luck ones, like you, remember the experience and stay attached to it.

  6. Good to see you here Linda and thank you for your comments. I did not at first tie you in from facebook with the author of 'Obedient to the Light' Blog (which I have followed for some time). Glad that I have all strands connected in my brain now. Readers might like to visit your blog I can recommend it!