One example of a spiritual symbol is the image of a tree of life. This is a universal symbol – appearing in ancient wisdom. We find it across cultures, religions and mythology. It turns up as the Yggdrasil (the world tree) of Norse religion, as part of the Jewish Kabbalah and as an Armenian religious symbol, to mention just a few examples.
What does the Tree of life mean to us now?
The Tree of Life appears in the first book of the Bible, Genesis, and also the last – the book of Revelation. At the beginning and the end. It’s almost as if it’s the framework into which the rest of the Bible fits.
We find the Tree of Life at the beginning at the centre of a garden and at the end at the centre of a holy city that descends from heaven. Swedenborg’s interpretation of this spiritual symbolism helps me relate to this; it reflects my changing relationship with the Divine; it is different at the beginning from what it becomes or grows into at the end.
For me, the bits in-between are a depiction of my spiritual wanderings and challenges to reach a spiritual maturity; a deeper connection with my experience of what is spiritual and a living relationship with the Divine Creator.
What is the beginning of our life like?
God has no beginning but we as his finite creations definitely do begin at a point in time. Our beginnings start in an experience of unity and connection, in the oneness of the Divine, yet it is necessary for us to develop into conscious independent individuals in order to choose to return to the forgotten, lost unity and connection of the One Life that creates, loves and sustains us.
This wonderful unity and connection with all that is living, I see in the beautiful Garden of Eden. This undoubtedly idyllic and innocent picture relates to what we experience in the infancy of our spiritual life. It is in the centre of this Garden where we discover or experience the Tree of Life.
Trees are powerful symbols of enduring, substantial mental and spiritual attitudes.
For me, the Tree of Life symbolises the perception that we are all united and connected by the Creative Love that gives life to all. To have this at the centre of one’s life is to perceive that the One Life can be experienced in many facets in other people and the world of nature; the One in the many.
What is the journey through life like?
Another tree appears in the Garden – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and this is very attractive to us. What sort of perception do we gain from eating its fruit? Its presence gives us a choice; do we decide what is good and true for ourselves or depend purely on it being revealed to us by God? We have minds of our own; surely we can decide for ourselves what we should do?
It is almost inevitable that we turn away from dependence on the Divine to choose and develop our own sense of identity, our ego. Life is then identified as being in the separate individual, myself, because that is what I experience. Therefore I no longer wish to be a part of the Garden of Eden experience which is about being receptive and dependant on Divine revelation.
So I embark on a long spiritual journey passing thought many trials and challenges in order to learn about myself and be self-sufficient.
A part of this quest for enlightenment is expressed in the following quotation from an article in Chrysalis magazine entitled Odyssey by David Garrett:
The loneliness of “coming to oneself” is acutely painful. At some point, in a mysterious way, the seeker dares to consider the possibility that the loneliness and the failure are because the quest was attempted entirely by his own efforts….For the first time, the seeker becomes experientially aware of an inner source that is deeper and more resourceful than the ego. As he/she turns to it, the feeling of being stuck recedes. The cold and barren world tingles and warms. The inner earth sprouts green shoots. Each time she/he consciously relates to the inner wise one, life quickens. When he /she ignores it, vitality ceases.
What is the end of my life like?
There is the possibility of discovering afresh the ‘tree of life’ perception in one’s spiritual maturity – but not in a garden. Now it is at the centre of a city. The Holy City at the end of the Bible is always descending from heaven, therefore I am once again open to Divine revelation coming from a God-given rationality, structured yet full of vitality and dynamism. This is an integration of all that has previously taken place in my experience and comes from heart, mind and service to others.
At the end of the journey one can re-discover what had been lost, and make one’s way back to the beginning to the Tree of Life – but it is different yet paradoxically the same. Perhaps what is to be discovered is always the same, eternal and enduring, but the change has taken place in oneself. This reminds me of the T.S. Eliot poem, Four Quartets, as follows;
We shall not cease from exploration
And at the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of the earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always –
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well….
Copyright 2010 Helen Brown