Divine Word seminarian Marlon Bobier Vargas is spending two years in Spain, fulfilling his overseas Cross-Cultural Training Program. As he acclimates to this new culture, he is surprised to see tree limbs being cut from trees to avoid leaves falling and having to be raked.
By Frater Marlon Bobier Vargas SVD
On a cold morning while waiting at the bus stop, I noticed something different about the trees that line the sidewalks. The columns of trees were like knights with swords raised, giving honor. The colorful leaves on the trees that I enjoyed were gone.
Then I recalled seeing three men on a truck. They cut the branches and removed the leaves from the trees a few days ago. I realized winter was coming. As part of preparation for the change of seasons, people in this part of western Spain cut tree branches.
Instead of letting the dry leaves fall to the ground by themselves, they cut the branches to avoid spending time and energy cleaning the fallen, dried leaves from the street.
I wondered if those trees have feelings. What would the trees be feeling with their bare branches and trunks, absent of their colorful and beautiful leaves? I wondered how they would feel knowing that, as the new season approaches, their branches would be cut to spare their owners the inconvenience of raking dried leaves. Would the trees feel that they were sacrificing their possessions for the sake of convenience?
The trees now are completely bare. They have lost their beauty. The rough surfaces and scars of their trunks are more visible—ugly in the eyes of many people. Perhaps they experience pain without the leaves that protect their trunks from the heat of the direct sunlight.
It is as if they are incomplete, imperfect, and weak, standing along the side streets. These feelings lingered inside of me as I passed the trees along the street.
On another morning, I noticed something about the appearance of the bare trees that amused me. Each tree still had at least one branch that touched the branch of another tree. The columns of trees on each side of the street were connected to each other.
It looked like the trees were holding hands, standing and giving support to each other. This stirring image of the bare trees helped transform my feelings of incompleteness, imperfections, and weakness into joy, love, and hope. It gave me peace when I realized that in times when the trees were seemingly vulnerable in their stripped condition, they had each other. With their branches connected, they backed and supported each other.
We, too, experience nakedness and aloneness. There are moments in our lives when we realize our incompleteness, imperfections, and inner and hidden insecurities.
Those insecurities and uncertainties come in many forms. Some people are enslaved by their shamefulness of being part of a broken and dysfunctional family. There are a significant number of individuals who are afraid to admit and address their addictions to drugs, pornography, computer gaming, alcohol, etc. Some friends and co-workers fret about living as undocumented immigrants in our society.
We have abusive political authorities who exteriorly show a powerful stance but interiorly feel guilt for their unjust and oppressive leadership. In a multitude of ways, we hurt from the pain of racial and gender discrimination. Fear, judgment, criticism, condemnation, rejection, isolation, abandonment, and hopelessness—these strong and damaging realities can make people wicked, wounded, broken, weak, and impoverished as individuals and as a community.
Like the bare trees that appear ugly and unattractive, we are vulnerable. That vulnerability sometimes makes us uncomfortable, troubled, ashamed or afraid. Our vulnerabilities sometimes urge us to isolate ourselves from others.
Yet, facing our vulnerabilities is an opportunity to take the path of change—life transformation and conversion. As we gradually grow in relationship with God, we discover His revelation. We come to know His unconditional mercy that can only be experienced by having a deep and intimate relationship with Him. In the darkest and ugliest state of our nakedness, we see that sacred mercy and loving embrace of God. We realize that we are not alone. We feel that we do not have to face our vulnerabilities alone.
There is more to learn from those bare trees. Psalms 1:1-3 reads, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in company with scoffers. Rather, the law of the Lord is his joy; and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted near streams of water, that yields its fruit in season; its leaves never wither; whatever he does prospers.”
The bare trees, as one of God’s creations, depend on the grace of their Creator. So do we. It is only through our God’s mercy that we are rescued from the power of darkness and brought into a life of freedom. As we continue to witness the greatness of the seasonal change around us, let us bring into our prayers our desire to seek God’s mercy.