My husband is an active duty Army chaplain, and the Army moves us somewhere different every 18 months-three years. About a year and a half ago, my family and I went through one of the most challenging transitions we have faced so far. The Army moved us from Western Washington State, which we dearly love, to South Central New Jersey. One of my first priorities when we settle into a new place is to find a space where I can get away from my normal to intentionally “be” with God. Although we are surrounded by miles and miles of farmland, I was surprised and grateful to find a Catholic retreat center about 30 minutes from our house. When I called and asked if I could visit, I signed up for a Friday morning exercise focusing on exploring how God is at work in and through nature.
After arriving at the retreat center on the designated Friday morning, our group of eight participants offered informal introductions. Our leader then invited us to engage in a couple of different forms of lectio divina, with moments of silence after both exercises. She then requested that we each go for a walk in nature, notice where God is drawing us, and use our senses of sight, sound, smell, and touch to explore how we felt and might respond to God throughout this experience. My curiosity was piqued as I stepped outside.
Almost immediately, I noticed the Japanese maple tree pictured above. As I drew closer and closer to it, I felt like God was gently drawing me to observe both the tree and its surroundings. I touched the tree’s leaves, felt how its trunk and branches seemed to dance to their own rhythm, and noticed how intricately beautiful the tree was. After several minutes of detailed observation, I took a few steps back and realized it was the only Japanese Maple tree within sight. Although it was a bit isolated, it was surrounded by a singular arc of tall green deciduous trees about 12 feet away.
I then realized that the Japanese maple tree was right where it was supposed to be. It was planted there on purpose for some reason. Yes, it looks different than the surrounding trees in the distance, yet it has its own story. It is okay that it doesn’t look like the other trees and its value is intrinsic. These reflections resonated within my soul, and I felt them in my gut, my heart, and my shoulders.
When we returned from our time of exploration, I asked our organizer if she could tell me the story behind this maple tree. It turns out the Catholic retreat center relocated from another space a while back. In the process of deciding what to bring with them in this move, the leaders decided to uproot this Japanese maple tree from its original location and move it to its present location, which was a lot more challenging than they originally thought it would be. After taking several days to uproot it, move it and replant it, the tree almost died. In response, the caretakers spent months nurturing this tree, speaking to it, and nursing it back to health. What was once almost dead is now healthy and standing strong.
At this moment, I realized why God invited me to “be” with this tree. I, too, have been uprooted and replanted in spheres of work, worship, personal relationships, and physical homes. There have been times when I thought parts of my soul might die, and yet, God has taken care of me, nurtured me, and brought me back to health in different ways. If God can help this Japanese maple tree thrive in its new setting, maybe God could also help me thrive in South Central New Jersey.
If you are in a space of feeling uprooted, displaced, or like your world is turning upside down, consider the story of this maple tree. Be encouraged to spend some intentional time exploring nature and giving attention to what and where God invites you to observe your surroundings. What do you notice? How does it feel? Where do you feel it in your body? What is God speaking to you?
Alaine Buchanan is an ordained minister, spiritual director, an active duty Army chaplain's spouse and a mom. She holds a PhD in Second Temple Literature and History and also teaches Biblical Studies (including history, theology and world religions) at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. Alaine is currently serving as the Dean of the College of Graduate and Professional Studies and Dean of Digital Education at North Central University in Minneapolis, MN. She has received certification in trauma care through the Allender Center and in Spiritual Direction through the Companioning Center.
In spiritual direction, Alaine loves to walk alongside those who are journeying through liminal spaces. She specializes in discernment, inner healing, spiritual formation practices and group spiritual direction. She is a fan of tea, chocolate, and all the Seattle sports teams. She can be found on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.