Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Tree

Not the actual tree, but a lovely tree none-the-less.
There’s a very large deciduous tree on a corner in Paradise. I notice the tree every time I drive past and it’s one of my favorites. The couple who planted the tree are long gone and a young family lives in the house now.  The branches are asymmetrical. The somewhat gnarled branches twist and drop down then reach to the sky. Every season of the year it changes, but is always beautiful.

Trees are often used for metaphors and I chose this particular tree to represent my spiritual life. Trees are always changing, growing imperceptibly, growing just enough that when you look back you see how much the tree has changed. The roots of my spiritual life run deep. They began even before memory. Images of sitting on my mother’s lap in Sacrament meeting. Thumbing through the hymn book and trying to follow the words as we sang. Attending Sunday school and making Bethlehem houses out of salt dough. Hiking with my family to the top of Mount Timpanogas when I was only four. Spending a week of every summer at the family cabin near Yellowstone. Climbing into the back of Grandpa’s jeep and watching the bears emerge from the dark forest. Sitting by the fire. Me and my mom throwing rocks into the Soda Butte river. Playing house with the kindergartners in my class. Riding my tricycle and collecting rocks on the "bumper."

When I was 8, a Sunday school teacher gave me a paper back Book of Mormon for Christmas. I read all of 1st Nephi and after each chapter would run into the living room to tell my dad. We had Family Home Evening nearly every week in that room. Mom read Where the Red Fern Grows to us and I remember sitting on the floor trying hard not to cry. When I think of my roots, I think of all these things. Church and all the people in the ward who taught me. Singing primary songs. I especially loved “I Wonder When He Comes Again” because my aunt wrote it. And every time we sang it I felt love for Jesus. I think of climbing mountains and trees. I think about  my grandmas and grandpa, my mom and my dad, and Silver Gate, Montana. I think of all the moms and houses in my neighborhood where I felt loved. Gratitude.

The trunk of my tree emerged strong because of all of these things that formed my childhood. I think of the trunk as me and the branches as all the parts of me that make my life meaningful. Young Women’s leaders helped me to love God and I remember reciting 2 Nephi 2:17 and wanting to serve others to show my love for God. In high school I had the same friends that I had in grade school. I remember the first time we hiked to Stewart Falls, hiked Mount Timpanogas together, attended firesides, camped out, jumped off  train trestles in Provo river and celebrated birthdays and eventually weddings. I used to come home from school and put on a Neil Young or James Taylor or Cat Stevens album and feel spiritually moved, just like at church or seminary. I learned to feel love for friends, teachers, and church leaders, but practicing that love at home with brothers was hard. I often sat in my room to sort out my thoughts. I loved to read with a cat on my lap, just like now. 
By the time I’d graduated from high school, I knew I loved to write and express my thoughts on paper. I knew I loved to create things with clay and remember the first time I threw a pot on the wheel. I practiced pottery so much, I saw the spinning clay when I closed my eyes at night. In a way, pottery became part of my religion even then. I remember thinking that quitting pottery would be like cutting off my arm, and I used the same analogy about Mormonism years later. One arm my art, the other the church. I remember thinking that the worse thing that could happen to me would be to lose my hands.

One of the largest branches on my tree is the relationship with my husband. Falling in love with my husband was one of the most spiritual gifts I’ve been given.  I have an idea whether true or not that God protected me by helping me to fall for such a good man. And he for me. Before him, I had crushes on guys who would not have not been good for me, or to me, or lasted. He and I have a rich life together. Other large branches are the relationships with my children, grandchildren and the rest of my family. Then my friends. Deep talks with friends is where I feel love and practice loving others. Love is spiritual. Kindness is spiritual. I have lunch friends, walking friends, bookclub and writing friends, church friends, non-church friends, political friends, and even facebook friends who lift and sometimes even carry me. People are part of my spiritual tree. They are the branches that have sprung from the roots of my tree. I have found that I can learn from everyone I meet. 

Now I've purposely let some of the Mormonism roots and branches wither, but nurturing others to grow to keep in balance seems possible. I can no longer see the church the way I did growing up. But Mormonism is my tap root. It is tangled with all the other roots that make me, me. In the last few years as I've tried to untangle the church from who I've become, I've found it impossible. It surges through and gives nourishment to everything else that I believe. I've seen friends and family members be able to successfully untangle their roots and they are often better because of it. For me the tugging and pulling at some of the the roots unravels too much of my core. But instead of the one and only true church, I believe it has truth mixed with lots of man-made beliefs and some of those beliefs and practices are even damaging and best discarded. Pruning a tree can often make it better and even allow it to bear fruit. Part of being a mature spiritual adult is being able to tell the difference between the essential and what is best pruned. And not to let others decide what is important in my life. Part of being a spiritual adult is honoring the journey of others as well as my own. 

In a church community I can learn to worship the God I believe in. I can practice the pure love of Christ and I can try to make a difference in others lives. I can honor the people who make a difference in my life--both in and out of my church. I can work at relationships and learn basic principles of love, charity, gratitude, prayer, and forgiveness. And often I can continue to add the philosophies and practices that resonate with my core, mindfulness, meditation, literature, writing, walking, art, LGBT support groups and activism, book clubs, writing groups, therapy, friends, skiing, bike riding, art, and guitar. Like the 13th article of faith ... If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things. Nearly all enriching things can be spiritual. I have a gift of awareness. As I drive or walk or hike, I notice the beauty of the sky, a mountain blue bird, a cottontail rabbit. I notice the trees, colors, flowers, animals. I pay attention. Awareness is spiritual. Mostly I’m grateful. Though some of the branches of my tree have been pruned and some have broken, others have grown in their place. I feel lucky. I feel blessed. I feel loved. I feel alive. 

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