I spent most of my early life in a cultivated forest of rubber trees, coconut, cashew, jackfruit, and teak trees, with pepper, ginger, coffee and tea plants. Here we played as children; here I had heart-to-heart chats with my mother in my years of adolescent turmoil. Our cultivated paradise was a sanctuary of peace.
The wisdom of the wilderness has nourished me throughout life. Trees are my best friends in moments of pain or loneliness. When I was missioned to Zambia almost thirty years ago, the challenges of starting again in a new country and culture were hard, especially being so far from family and friends — with no phones, and where letters took more than three months to get home. It was like learning to walk again.
Inspiration from indigenous trees
In those early days the wilderness was my best friend. I would go to the Zambezi riverside in a national park, talking loudly, crying, and sharing my pain with the trees. As I grow older and wiser I love being among the trees even more, especially the indigenous trees. Traveling around the world in various ministries, I experienced the sacredness of the trees in many lands. The Banyan tree of India, the Oak of Ireland, the Baobab, the Mubanga and Muyombo of Zambia, the Gum tree of the Australian Aborigines, the Sycamore of the Jews, and the Olive of the Arabs have inspired and comforted me. Their wildness and mysterious presence fills me with joy and peace, wonder and awe. And I learn:
Wisdom of her heart
Peace ... you want peace ... step into the wilderness ... she will receive you with outstretched arms ... stay a while she says, she will fill you with peace ... try it
Harmony ... all beings live and grow in communion ... all tribes of beings grow in love ... everything is nourished by the wilderness of God.
Abundance ... abundance of food, of species that crawl, fly, walk or swim.
Wildness of God ... where else could you find the wild God of creation ... the green God, the lavishing God.
Sacred Presence ... it is in the wilderness we experience the presence of the sacred in a way we can't find anywhere else in the world.
Living water is the gift of wilderness ... down from the hills and mountains into the valleys of the forests ... comes the fresh living waters quenching the thirst of all beings.
Stillness — nothing is so like God as stillness (Eckhart) and we find an abundance of stillness in God's wilderness.
Breath of God in the fresh air ... filling trillions of cells in our body. "God is the breath of all life" (Kabir) ... stay close to the wilderness and you breathe the freshness of the Holy One.
Just like the tree to stay rooted in the ground of our being …
No wonder nature mystic John Muir wrote "In God's (wilderness) lies the hope of the world," speaking of the mystical spirit of the wilderness.
Returning to a new reality
But there is a new reality. When I came to Zambia thirty years ago the air, soil, and rivers were clean. Now everything is strewn with plastic, and pollution is everywhere. The encyclical Laudato Si' must be a wake-up call for the entire world — that we must care for and learn from the Earth. In the Earth is communion with God, one another, and all of creation. We cannot experience God except in this home. If we really sense this "is holy ground" (Exodus 3:5) then we can treat each other with reverence. We can relate to everything in life with a sense of sacredness. We can really hear the heart of God beating in everything. This is surely God's holy temple.
When I returned to Zambia after an absence of 13 years I was startled by a painful sight in Kaoma, Western province. There had been a time when death was a daily visitor in our neighborhood; thank God people live healthier lives now. But today we are seeing the funeral of the forests. Trucks and trucks —"coffins on wheels!"— of Rosewood logs and other special trees are taken overseas. Other trees in the form of bags of charcoal are loaded in trucks and head towards the capital. Who will weep for the forest, speak for the trees — the "first temple of God?"
Funeral of the Forest
Four billion years
You turned and churned
Pregnant with life
Life in abundance.
You danced in good times and bad
In dark silence and brilliant light
Your sacred womb heaving with life,
life of creatures
Big and small.
Day after day … year after year
You brought forth the family of God.
In wonder, in vibrant colours
Each a Word of God
Spoken only once.
Each a book of God etched with love.
You saw they were a thing of beauty
Proclaiming the wonder of the Holy ONE
And You danced with delight!
You weep for your children
Wiped out before your eyes
Eyes that never sleep.
naked, bruised, raped and plundered.
Not once but a million times over.
Bleeding, crying, sobbing, dying
You watch with helpless hands
Funeral of the forests
Of creatures great and small.
You weep in silence
As you stand by the cold bodies
Of your beloved earthlings
mother, father, children, grandchildren
Of all species, race, colour, creed and no creed.
Who will wipe your tears?
Who will comfort your heart?
Who will be the change?
Who will break the silence?
Who will bring healing?
Your faithful journey of 4 billion years
Lies shattered among the stars
Each twinkle of a star
A tear for their friend in sorrow
Your heart beats with eternal love
Your heart echoes only compassion.
I feel you under my feet
Mother you hold us close to your heart
Mother of us all
Household of the Holy One
May you rise again teeming with life
Dancing among the stars
Bearing the children of the Holy
Celebrating the wonder of the One
The ONE whose beloved we are.
You and all your earthlings!
O Light within all Life
Rise within us.
We must listen to God's heartbeat
There is abundance in the household of God, in the heart of Mother Earth, abundance in her body ... why then do some hoard while others struggle? Gandhi said "the world has enough for everyone's need but not for everyone's greed."
We have been nourished and sustained for millions of years by the body of Mother Earth. She is our true Bank, the only Bank where we can invest, where we can always withdraw for our need.
Urbanization is a global crisis. Through polluted air we can't see the light of God's eyes in the twinkling stars. We must learn to listen to the call of Mother Earth, to the Spirit in the heart of the wilderness, free ourselves from the forest of cement and noise in our cities. We are not living a sustainable life. We have to get back to our roots, to the life of the Earth. We cannot have peace in our world without peace with Earth.
Throughout his life Jesus would go to the wilderness to discern and pray, as did the mystics of all cultures and faith traditions, to listen to the heartbeat of God in creation, to listen to the heartbeat of Mother Earth — the body of God.
[Teresita Abraham is a Presentation Sister from India living in rural Zambia. She is passionate about the new creation story and spirituality of being in communion. Together with the local community, she has created the Garden of Oneness, a Sanctuary of Peace and Harmony where she lives and works.]