Christ the Apple Tree
by Paul Collins
Paul shares with us a reflection on a prayer exercise he made whilst on the Friends of St Beuno’s weekend retreat last month:
In terms of my own particular spiritual development path – an aspect in which St Beuno’s has played a major role for over eight years now – the weekend session that I found most fulfilling was the Art Workshop led by Karen Eliasen. In the workshop she posed for us the artistic-cum-spiritual matter of trees: their roots, branches and fruits. She asked us each to draw a representation of the same in our spiritual lives. We were invited to embody this creative task against the background of scriptural texts prefaced by the poem: Jesus Christ the Apple Tree. These were texts principally from Genesis on bearing fruit with seed, from Isaiah on drawing water out of the wilderness, Jeremiah on the roots from the tree planted beside water, and Matthew on the birds of the air nesting in tree branches.
That weekend I had just arrived at St Beuno’s from addressing the Quaker Family History Society in Exeter on some of my Quaker roots my mother had traced back over several centuries which resulted in a family tree with many branches. My ancestor John Dougill had had to go to Gretna Green to marry a Quaker in darker days.
My representation of the foregoing not surprisingly started with a tree at the centre with many branches and many roots spreading across different faiths – Methodist/Baptist and Quaker taking both sides of the family and now including the Ignatian, as well as Anglican. The tree was in a garden – in particular the one painted by Holman Hunt of Christ as the Light of the World, knocking on the heavy wooden door that was weed-covered because it has never been opened. On the ground were fruits, un-gathered.
On the other side was a church resembling St Beuno’s Rock Chapel. It was here during my 30-Day Retreat where I first heard God’s voice calling as the sun shone early morning through the stain glass window – particularly the one symbolising Hopkins’ Windhover casting warm Holy Spirit-like rays onto the world thus bringing all together in love. The Windhover took its place over the tree that dawn of the morning of my vision when the gentle sound of wind rustled through the trees outside. At that time my route back from the chapel each day was past the graveyard of the Fathers – the last to be buried there being Gerry W. Hughes, author of God of Surprises. One day the sun shone on Christ’s face in the Cross that lay there. It was quite transforming for a non-Catholic. Shortly after this happened, my Director on the retreat, having been demanded some Julian of Norwich supplied the “Bliss of the Passion”. And I got it this time!
And so back to my work of art, before the church was a graveyard: my resting place in the family one in Yorkshire with all those who have gone before me and passed on their faith heritage. And finally there was the well: the source of water and life I prayed on after Eucharist on one St Ignatius’ Day and saw Christ looking down at me protectively in the reflections on the water.
And so I returned to Christ the Apple Tree: “the tree of life my soul has seen… for happiness I long have sought …. This fruit does make my soul to thrive … it keeps dying faith alive which makes my soul in haste to be with Christ the apple tree”.