Zhaozhou said, "The oak tree in the courtyard."
~ The Mumonkan Collection of Zen Koans
During this summer, I led a retreat at Willow River State Park near our home in Wisconsin. The theme of the retreat was Into the Woods. The activities were based on the Japanese practice of shinrin yoku (forest bathing) and on the advice of Celtic Saint Columbanus, “If you want to know God, first get to know God’s creation.”
We spent the day immersing ourselves in a small section of the forest and the river, through each of our senses, and through Taoist gigong practices.
During one of the exercises, I had a moment of awakening or understanding that I will try to describe, although words and intellect cannot really do it justice.
As I was looking around, I noticed an oak leaf hanging from a branch just at my eye level. The late morning sun shown through it from behind, causing it to be translucent and illuminating it as if it was shining from within. As I looked at it in detail I noticed that the veins of the leaf shared a similar design with the tree to which it was attached. It had a large vein, or trunk, branching off into smaller veins at angles, and yet smaller veins branching from each of them. I examined this pattern on the leaf for awhile, and then I looked over at the river. It struck me that the river had basically the same design as the leaf and the tree. Beginning at its source, the river has a main branch and divides into smaller streams and creeks. I noticed that my own body has a trunk which also branches off into arms and legs and a head which branch off further into fingers, toes, and hair. In Chinese Medicine, the energy channels have the same basic design: larger meridians branching off into smaller ones. I remembered that Jesus said, "I am the vine; you are the branches.”(John 15:5). I saw the heavenly realm or spiritual world as sharing this same pattern of branching. I began to feel a deep tingling sensation and joy welling up inside as these realizations of connection continued to develop.
I recalled reading that the the molecular structure of hemoglobin in our blood and of chlorophyl in plants are nearly identical. The main difference is that hemoglobin (on the left) is red because of one iron atom at its core and chlorophyl is green because of one magnesium atom at its core. They both flow through the branches and veins of animals or plants to nourish them. Again an amazing similarity and oneness. It struck me that if Jesus is the vine and we are the branches, then the Divine Energy that flowed through Jesus also flows through and nourishes us.
We ended the retreat with a Celtic Communion service at a natural stone “altar” surrounded by White Pines. As we consumed the consecrated bread and wine, I knew that it was being converted into nutrients and carried by our blood throughout our bodies and becoming the energy that gives us life and reminding us we are filled with Divine Energy. We were one with the bread and wine, with the trees with the stone, with each other, with Jesus, with the Divine Mystery.
At the beginning of our day of retreat, we opened our morning prayers with a song by local singer/songwriter Peter Mayer. The song is Holy Now. The lyrics remind me of what I experienced that day:
When I was a boy, each week
On Sunday, we would go to church
Pay attention to the priest
He would read the holy word
And consecrate the holy bread
And everyone would kneel and bow
Today the only difference is
Everything is holy now
Everything is holy now
You can hear Peter Mayer singing Holy Now on You Tube at