Today’s post in the series Creating a Sacred Space Do We Really Need Churches comes from Ryan Harrison. Ryan is from Denver, Colorado. When she’s not at her day job, she spends her time creating: writing and designing, or trying to build a community of love in her little corner of Denver. She always thinks about keeping a blog, but doesn’t currently have one.
A tree, my most sacred space…
When I first began my relationship with God, I was instantly thrown into turmoil in my relationship with my family. I still lived at home, and they exercised harsh restrictions in my life in order to keep me from walking on my new path. In fact, in one particular attempt to deter me, they took me out of Colorado for an entire summer, to prevent me from going to a certain church.
What they didn’t expect, what I didn’t expect, was the way that God met me in the pine groves of the Pacific Northwest. The trees towered over me, catching sun rays and bouncing them off their green needles and letting shadows twinkle across their trunks. They were playfully declaring the glory of the Lord. I saw God in those groves, catching glimpses of His promise to His people: to trade their ashes for beauty, to raise them up like oaks of righteousness. As I watched the sun snag on the pine needles, my heart was consoled: me, a living promise of roots that dug deep for water, deep for the nourishment that would grow me up into a towering tree, a sign of His faithfulness.
Six months later, I’d run deep into the forests of Switzerland, running to a clearing where I’d collapse, the trees covering me, standing at my side and my back as though God’s army of angels was there in those very leaves, in those swaying branches that covered me in a blanket of peace. I had left home and gone to Switzerland, not being able to stand what my family did to me anymore. Almost as soon as I stepped off the train that took me to my Swiss village, my family severed ties, in a way full of finality, sending me into a season of despair and tears. And so I’d go into my forest, and I’d wait on God to show me something. He had met me in the forest once before and I trusted Him to do it again. Without fail, I’d wait and the sun would dance into the clearing and dry the tears from my face, and I would rest in the promise that the waves wouldn’t drown me, they wouldn’t sweep me away. God would rescue–no, He was rescuing me. He was pouring love into my dying roots, reviving me.
More than a decade later my friend had to bury her brother, and her long time best friend, just shy of 40 years old. And as I sought to comfort her, I could see one thing as I prayed: my friend in a clearing with an army of trees at her back, holding her steady, keeping her on her feet in the moments when the grief was too strong and it threatened to crush her. And those trees? Her community, the people who committed to pursue a holy God and be raised up in His righteousness so that we could pour that healing balm that came from God alone on her wounded heart.
Her brother’s ashes are buried at the foot of a kingly tree, one that climbs high into the heavens, birds perching on the branches so tall you can’t see their shapes but faintly hear them, the rain falling through and becoming mist by the time it lands on you. What beauty and hope there is in that picture for me.
Trees are my sacred space, my cathedral where I meet with God. When I sit at the trunk of a tree, or run my hand over the gnarled knots in a tree in my neighborhood that has pushed itself up through the sidewalk, I know God’s closeness. Whether in the pine groves near Seattle, the forests in Switzerland, or the olive groves in Spain, I find a sense of home, my true home. When the aspens quake in the late summer with the autumn breeze moving in, their grace and strength remind me of my journey with God and nudge me to remember: anchor my soul in Him and He will help me stand tall.
I love walking through the doors of my church building, the worship echoing along the walls and the warmth of the chatter of loved ones rushing at me. I need that quirky old building to remind me that my job helping build the Kingdom is as sacred as anything else, joining God’s people to raise up the cause of the orphan and the widow. The building reminds me that my soul does not have only an inward journey, but also an outward one. But what my soul longs for most, is that secret place where I meet God, my most sacred of all sacred spaces, the forest. I need the stained glass of the glinting sunshine and the dew. I need the hushed whispers of the leaves and the wind. I need the intricate kaleidoscope of the bark and the sap. But most of all, I need the promise of the tender blossom returning in the spring after a sleepy winter, its scent drifting on the promise of His redeeming love.