Chris had been sitting on the edge of his bed while the dream replayed itself in his mind. It had a richness to it that previous dreams had not had. It was more robust, more alive. In fact, he was more alive because of this dream…if that was all that it was.
He glanced at the clock and was amazed that so little time had passed since the alarm had ended his adventures in the dream. He readied himself and went off to work, somewhat subdued as the dream interjected itself in almost every aspect of his day.
He traveled home lost in thought. Every now and then he looked at his reflection in a mirror or a window to see if he was just Chris, or if he was Chris the tree.
He felt saddened that he always looked like himself. The peace and contentedness that he had found as a tree, and even before that, when he lived among the trees, seemed lost to him now. The material things that filled his vision every moment of the day he considered to be just cheap imitations of the gifts he had received directly from the Great Tree. In fact, food had little taste, colors were pale and the items of wealth he used to envy and strive for were now little more than cheap trinkets. A temporary shifting of some physical structures, at great expense, that would soon shift back to rust or some other debris.
What were these things compared to the understanding that flooded him there on the bank of the stream? How could he ever again find the joy that he had in the valley?
Chris unlocked the door to his apartment and let himself in. He walked dejectedly into the kitchen, opened the refrigerator door, and looked for something to eat. Even though it was bland in comparison to the water from the stream, Chris was hoping that at least one longing would be somewhat satisfied this day. He fixed a nondescript dinner from a nameless frozen food box. Little caring for the flavor or color, he ate anyway, hoping to be full for a little while.
He washed the silverware he had used and threw the non-stick microwaveable packaging away. Staring at the packaging that doubled as his dinner plate, he realized that he lived his life in compartments just like the packaging he had eaten from. His home life was separate from his work life. His recreational activities were not integrated into either of the other two areas. He had no love life. He had very few friends to speak of. Oh, to be sure, he had acquaintances, but none to whom he could go to for serious help.
He wondered if his body was just the packaging for his segregated life that would be thrown away and forgotten when the world, or time, or life, or whatever it is called, was finished with him.
His kitchen was spotless, as was the rest of his apartment. But it was the only aspect of his life that he felt he had control over. He was always driven by whatever voices flowed through this world. And without direction, he ended up going nowhere, looking to material things for his source of pleasure, and not understanding why he felt so lost. Do most people feel this way? How do they go on living with the knowledge that everything in this world was breaking down, that nothing was as advertised, that the purpose of this world was to lead you on a wild goose chase with no destination in mind: to lead you on with false hopes and promises until you ended up lost and without hope in a world of strangers pretending to know each other, who were also lost and without hope.
Chris sighed and walked into the living room. He turned on the TV out of habit more than anything, and abruptly shut it off as it only emphasized what he already knew; the struggle for wealth and the material things that wealth could obtain was wasted effort. He had spent too much time and too much money trying to satisfy himself that way. He looked around at his apartment and counted the things he had purchased to please himself. Next, he counted all those items that he was not satisfied with. He was not surprised when the numbers were identical.
‘Maybe I can go to sleep, even though it is still early’ he thought. Perhaps I will once again dream of the valley and the and the
Great Tree. Maybe I can once again feel contented, complete, loved, satisfied.
Chris tried to sleep, but something seemed to fight to keep him awake. He tossed and turned, sat up and lay back down, threw the covers off and put them back on, but, still, sleep avoided him. He finally decided to simply lie in the darkness and recall the images and emotions of the valley where he had spent so little time but had gathered so much hope.
He remembered the coolness of the grass, the shade of the large trees, the murmur of the stream and the sweet taste of the water. He recalled touching the deeply grooved bark of the majestic trees and somehow understanding that the tree’s majesty was not due to age, but to wisdom. He saw the Creature swimming through the water placing pearls on the trees along the stream. With a rush, he remembered when the Creature placed a pearl on his roots, and the instant unleashing in his being of the peace and knowledge that pearl caused.
His thoughts began to swim. He felt himself floating just above sleep, and then he heard the voice of the Great Tree call to him and invite him back to the valley.
Chris slid into the valley through one of the small clouds that dotted the brilliantly blue sky. He fell and flew until he saw the headwaters of the Stream. He then followed it along, instantly recognizing the various trees he had talked to or clung to or learned from.
But then he saw the Great Tree. He was still very high above the valley floor and yet the Great Tree stretched up beyond his view toward the heavens. He aimed for this Tree, hoping to land in a branch and recover the peace he had felt filling him just last night, so long ago.
As he approached the Great Tree, he was reminded of the scars that covered its trunk. Chris saw that many of the branches that stretched out and up from the trunk held scars that had healed but still showed a history of great damage inflicted upon this wonderful Tree.
His eye was caught by a branch and he maneuvered toward it, falling and flying in an awkward way. He still was a long way off when he heard the voices in the air rushing past his ears. They called to him to look over his shoulders at the beautiful sight just beyond the ridge of the valley. They spoke and sang to him with such intensity that he was distracted and began to tumble in the air. Too late, he realized he had lost the ability to fly and cried out to the Great Tree.
He seemed to have tumbled for several minutes, but it must have been only a second or two, when he found himself being steadied by the tip of a branch firmly wrapped around his hand. He grabbed hold of it as it lifted him up and toward the main body of the tree. He found himself standing on a branch, the very branch he had been aiming for, and he was supported by the Great Tree.
As he recovered his breath, he wondered at the tree’s massive size. The warm voice of the Great Tree filled his ears and heart again, telling him of the wondrous peace and contentment it had in store for him, and Chris rejoiced, for he was home!
He clung to the smaller branches that leafed their way off the wide firm branch on which he stood. He stood still, his eyes closed, and his head tilted back soaking in the Presence of the Great Tree. He felt the branches, smooth and solid, in his hands. He felt the leaves as they danced about him in the sweet air. He smelled the wood and bark and life of the Great Tree and stood in wonder at it all. He was at peace. But more than that, he had become peaceful. He seemed to know that with the Presence that was so near to him now, he would be able to face anything, anything, with the same peace that filled him right now.
Chris wanted to memorize the feeling. But more than that, he wanted that peace to never leave him, no matter where he went.
“I will never leave you; I have told you this. I will never leave you.”
“Yes, Great Tree, You have told me this. But I seem to remember something. I cannot explain it, but I seem to remember that I felt I was without You. That you were not near to me. That I had no hope. I remember something of sadness, of fear, and of loneliness. Was that real? Where were You?”
“My child, I never left you. But tell me, does an infant know when his parents are near? Or does the baby only know this when its needs are met?”
“I suppose the baby is only really aware of its parents when its needs have been met; when it has been fed, clothed, and cared for.”
“Does that mean that the parents were not there at the other times?”
“No.” Chris said this and then realized that the Great Tree had been speaking about him. “Was I that infant? And were you near me all that time I felt lonely? Where was that terrible place? And must I ever go there again?”
“Yes, my child. You are that infant. You are not aware of my Presence because your faith has not been tested. Tested faith will lead to stronger faith. That will in turn lead to your knowing that I am always near.”
“You will always be near?”
“Always. Picture me as the parent that is teaching the child to ride a bicycle. They are encouraging, and supporting, and running along beside the child, arms outstretched if the child lost his balance. Now picture that same parent with a love that is infinitely deeper, arms strong enough to carry not just the child, but the very life of the child, and wisdom and peace in great abundance. I long for your success. I have designed you and equipped you. You are prepared to learn, and then to do. And I will be with you every step.”
Chris knelt on the branch and ran his hands along its surface. He wanted to have as much contact with it as he could. Both to soak up the love the Great Tree had for him and to somehow let his love flow back into the strong wood.
“I don’t ever want to leave you.” Chris said. “I want to stay right here. That other place was frightening. I couldn’t see you or hear you. I don’t want to leave here ever again!”
He looked at the scars on his branch. He wondered at the number of them, and at their ugliness. The deep, jagged marks were in stark contrast to the smooth bark he had when he was a tree.
“You are a tree. You have always been becoming a tree. But you have just recently changed into that which you were made to be.”
“But I don’t look like a tree. I certainly don’t feel like one. I especially didn’t when I was in that other world!”
“How you feel about yourself is not the issue. Your feelings, no matter how real and strong they are to you, are often built on a crumbling foundation. You must build your life on Truth.”
“What is the Truth, then?”
“I Am.” The words hit Chris and flung him out of the valley, beyond a massive mountain range to the west, and out into the sky until he found himself in space looking at a retreating globe of blue and green.
“I am the Truth” the Great Tree said. “Build on me, and you will never be shaken.”
In an instant, Chris stopped moving. He turned his head and saw a wonderful sight. Stars appeared to be falling over the edge of a precipice that was miles high. They fell and twisted, bouncing and turning as they approached the pool at the bottom. They landed with great splashes of sparkling light that fell, laughing, back into the pool.
Chris watched as the stars rose out of the pool and approached the Great Tree at the base of the starfall. Each one brought a gift and laid it down before the Tree, their Creator.
Chris was drawn closer and saw the Tree scoop up a star with strong branches and hold it tenderly for some time before spreading it’s branches and letting the star flit back to the heavens to find it’s place, once again, in Creation.
The beauty and tenderness of the whole scene was a wonder to Chris. He was struck by the sight and tears welled up within him. He was captured by the beauty and joy of creation, and the power and tenderness of the Creator.
“That is Truth,” the Great Tree said, “and you are allowing yourself to be moved by Truth. Your senses are filled with it. Your awe and amazement are because of the Truth you have seen. You are moved by this beauty; you are captivated by it. My Word is Truth. Be captivated by it as well. Be inspired and controlled and moved by my Word. The Truth. Carry it with you in the forefront of your mind and in the doorway of your soul, and you will always know that you are a tree, and that I have fashioned you for my purpose.”
Chris blinked and found himself lying face down on his branch in the Great Tree. His tears fell to the bark and splashed, reminding him once again of the starfall and its beauty.
He wondered at all he had seen and heard, ‘How can I ever get it right? There is so much to it!’ he thought.
Pushing himself up, his hands brushed the rough wound in the wood of his branch. Looking closer, he saw a memory etched into the places where the wound had healed. It was a memory long forgotten, but it came back to him in a flash. All the pain and suffering of the moment flooded him, taking him back in time to the situation that had caused so much anguish. He curled up and wrapped his arms around his legs as the memories ripped him apart again. Soon sobbing, he barely heard the kind voice of the Great Tree speak to him.
“Leave that with me. You don’t need to carry it any longer. That burden has been lifted, that wound has been healed.”
Chris lifted his head and wiped his eyes. He sobbed, “Why is it here? What are you doing with it?”
The Great Tree wrapped a tender branch around Chris and held him until his sobs diminished and his breathing slowed. “It is mine, now. I took it from you so you wouldn’t be burdened with it. You never have to carry it again. It is mine and I am glad you are free of it.”
“But how can I just give that away? It’s burned into my memory! It will never be gone!”
“Ah, you are a young tree, but there is a great deal of faith within you. I will tell you, and you only must believe. These scars are the wounds I have taken for your healing. Your pain is now on me. You no longer have any claim to it, nor it on you.
“When the voices bring the memory back to you, you only have to recall that the wound and the pain and the memory is no longer yours – it is mine. Send the voices to me. I will answer for you.”
“That’s it? Merely recall that you have taken it from me?” Chris shook his head in wonder. It all seemed so simple, perhaps too simple.
“There is one other thing that is to be done” the Great Tree said.
‘Ahhh,’ thought Chris, ‘now the catch.’
“There is one thing that is to take place in this Mystery to give it the fullness it was designed to have.”
Chris waited for the catch. As he sat on his branch, safe within the Great Tree, two voices raced round and round his head. They both sounded like him, but they were each vastly different. One voice sounded like a winter storm, harsh, howling, and cold. But it also held within its structure a sense of the temporal, the idea that there was no permanence in the voice. That, like the snow that melts in the face of the sun, this voice would melt away someday.
The other voice was so quiet, it could barely be heard above the constant ranting of the storm. In fact, Chris could only hear it when he consciously shut out the other voice and waited. And as he waited, the second voice whispered to him like an early summer breeze. He could hear elements of tree leaves laughing as they danced on a wind that gently flowed from the face of the sun. He heard birdsong, he smelled the mountains with their clean coolness, and he felt so alive and full of hope when he heard this voice.
But it was so quiet. So hard to hear, and so hard to listen to. But when he heard it, he knew the voice – it was the Stream, the Creature and the Great Tree.
It said,” My friend, you exist to give me glory. I made plans for you before I formed this universe. I knew that you would become a slave to the voices in the wind, and I knew what it would take to purchase your freedom. I became the door when there was no way to leave the world of ash and smoke. The poison of sin came to this world, and with it came a hatred of Truth. I am Truth.”
The voice was as quiet as ever, but its presence was almost overwhelming. “I was there at the beginning of your lineage. I watched the future unfold for each of your ancestors. I watched as the ripples caused by their decisions reached through time to affect your life, and I knew it all before there was anything to know.
“I am the Power of Creation, the Whisper of Peace, the Beauty of Truth, the Fire of Holiness. And I call you my friend.
“All Glory is mine, but only some are willing to give it. You were created to give me glory!” Then the voice was still, but the majestic presence lingered.
Chris ran his fingers along the scar once more. This time, he was in awe of what had been done for him, and by whom. “Great Whisper of Peace” he said, “you indeed are worthy of Glory, for who you are and for what you have done for me.” He looked at each scar on his branch and recognized the wounds they held, then he gave each scar to the Great Tree and received the healing for them.
He did this for everyone, from the trunk outward toward the tip until he came to scars that held no memories. “What are these?”
“Those are for the healings yet to come. They have all been taken from you even though you have not experienced them yet.”
Chris ran his fingers along each wound. There were so many, and some were so deep. He thanked the Great Tree for his goodness to him.
The sun traveled its arc and approached the western horizon. As the nightly transfiguration of the sky occurred, Chris found himself exhausted from the emotional exercise he had gone through today. He stood on his branch with his arm wrapped around the trunk of the Great Tree. Gazing over the valley, he felt the peace he had known during his first visit here. His eye traveled up and down the Stream. Many places were familiar to him and he enjoyed the memories.
“I must visit that tree.” He said out loud. “The tree that comforted me in its branches the second night I was here.”
“Yes, little one, visit that tree. That is a wise tree. You will be for him that which he needs. Take this opportunity to use the gifts I gave you.”
Chris stopped and thought for a moment. He asked, “What gifts?”
“Certainly, you must know, you must remember! No? Ah, well. It is often that way. But, don’t be disappointed. I am not!”
Chris had hung his head, ashamed that he could have forgotten a gift given to him by the Great Tree. But at the kind words, he lifted his eyes and stared into the deep recesses of the tree, trying hard to remember. Unable to bring the memory forward, Chris sat down and waited to be reminded.
The Great Tree loved this one. It is true that the Great Tree loved each one that came into its branches like this, yet each one, while loved with the same depth of love and intensity, was loved differently – uniquely. This little one sitting here expectantly waiting to be taught was no less different than any of the others that had sat on their own branch…and no less loved.
The Great Tree was moved with emotion. The love for Chris was evident in the scars on its trunk from the wound that had felled it for a time. It was evident in the wounds it had taken to heal him, and it was evident now as the Great Tree poured out the Plan it had devised for Chris. “No other tree has this plan. It is for you alone, and up to you alone. But I have given you all that you will need…and more.”
And with that, the Great Tree reminded Chris of the beautifully colored globes that had held a wonderful nectar. Each color had its own flavor, and each flavor completely described the color.
Chris’ eyes widened as the memory flooded back. The tastes and colors appeared before him and again he experienced the great joy they brought to him.
“That joy will visit you each time you use your gift for my Glory.” The Great Tree said. “So, use it freely, and distribute my grace to many.”
“But if you do not use it, you will not receive that joy or bring me Glory or spread my grace to others. Do this to your detriment. And do not keep others from using their gifts”, he continued sternly, “do this to your great peril.”
“Now rest and rest, both on my words and in the Truth that they are. You have been in the forefront of my mind from before there was time. Go. Be. Do all to my Glory and prosper.”
As these last few words entered Chris’s heart, he lay back and fell asleep, safe in the branches of the Great Tree.
He awoke rooted deep into the bank of the Stream. As he stretched, he remembered the strength of his roots. His powerful trunk was much larger than he remembered. He tested the reach of his branches. “Amazing” he said to himself.
“Not really” a voice said, “if you consider everything.”
Chris looked around, but the only thing he saw was the Creature darting through the water. It disappeared up-stream and shortly reappeared with a pearl in its mouth. After placing it on Chris’ roots, it flipped into the air and spoke. “You have spent time with the Great Tree. Your roots soak up water given to you by the Stream. You have been given pearls of understanding. You have given glory to the Great Tree. You look to use your gifts. You seek understanding and search for it where Truth dwells. You hear the soft voice of the Great Tree. You have found rest in its branches. You know of the lies that are in the world of smoke and ash and choose not to believe them.”
The Creature paused and said. “Growth is natural. Sustained growth is natural. Perfection is the goal, but you will not see that while you live in this valley.”
The Creature swam back to Chris and stopped. “You are a young tree. There are mysteries that are mighty. Mysteries that could take your mind captive, holding it in clutches too powerful to be easily freed from. This Mystery is one easily spoken of, but the understanding of it is buried deep within your heart. Some come to an understanding of it while in this valley, but most must wait until they have become new trees.”
“Another Mystery” the Creature said.
“I want to learn of these mysteries! How can I? will you teach me?”
The Creature swam off and returned after delivering another pearl. “You will learn, I will be your tutor, but you must learn to make mud, before you can make bricks.”
Chris thought of this most interesting conversation for several hours. As his mind wandered along the flow of the words, he became even more excited about the mysteries, and he fell asleep thinking about the possibilities of wondrous things!
Before the new day dawned, he was awake, too excited about visiting with the tree up-valley. The protection and teaching Chris received from the tree that night gave him hope and direction. And although he had told the tree thank you, he wanted to visit and tell the tree what he had found.
But he panicked when he thought about moving. He thought, ‘How do I get there? Oh, why didn’t I visit before I became a tree again?’
“You can’t become a tree ‘again’” a voice said. The Creature was back.
“Once you have become a tree, you will remain a tree. The process cannot be undone. Nothing you do, nothing, will affect your ‘Tree-ness’. You must remember this. It is an essential concept that you must immerse yourself in, even if you find it hard to understand.
“I will try to remember that.”
The Creature placed another pearl on Chris’ roots. “If you live near the Stream, you will remember, for you will know.”
Chris felt the flow of understanding, love and power instantly course through him. And he felt, more than he knew, that what the Creature said was true.
Chris hesitated, then said “Ahh, how do I move?”
“Your heart’s desires will take you.” And with that, the Creature flipped high into the air and landed splash-less in the water and swam out of sight.
“I really want to see that tree” Chris thought. ”Now, how do I get my desires to take me there?” and instantly, he was at the tree.
‘There are the welcoming branches, the kind bark, and the peaceful leaves.’ This line of thought made him realize that while all that lived here were trees, they all looked different. Some had attributes of strength, some of knowledge, some of friendship, some of peace, and some of understanding. And there were many other types as well. ‘I wonder what kind of tree I am?’
“Hello, tree” Chris said. “I wanted to visit you. I wanted to tell you of my journey and my discoveries.”
The wise tree rumbled, “Ahh, young tree, you are good to visit an old tree. Have you learned from the Great Tree? And tasted, and seen, and understood, and grown?”
“Yes, I have. This is my second visit to this valley, and I must tell you all.” And with that, Chris told all that had happened to him from the time he had left the tree until he had greeted it this very morning. The day was half-spent when he finished the telling.
The two trees stood side-by-side along the banks of the Stream for some time. Silently reflecting, listening to the water, and rejoicing in the ability to spend time in such a place as this.
The wise tree spoke quietly. “Do you know, young tree, that it has been a very long time since some one has told me of their journey? A very long time. But it has been good to hear of it. To know that you have tasted the gifts, and seen the scars, and drank of the Stream, and listened to the Creature, and saw with your eyes, and heard with your ears, and opened your heart to the Truth.
“You have a rare gift, young tree. And you have poured it out on me without taking the measure of it. A sign of a true gift giver.”
The tree paused, listening again as a slight wind tickled his leaves. “Your journey does not end here at my side, no, but I invite you back often to tell me of your continuing adventure. Perhaps, someday, I will tell you of my own journey…what I saw, and heard, and understand, and feel. Someday. But just now, the small voice has told me to tell you this: Your recent visit to the valley was because you could not find joy in the world of smoke and ash. You have found a great Truth that many choose not to see. But this is a Mystery that you can know – the joy of this world can be taken to that other world. In fact, that is the only joy you will find there.”
Chris would have fainted, if he could, as the other tree showed him this Mystery. What joy he could now have – here and in the other world.
Chris quickly stretched way up and looked over the ridge. He saw where he lived and worked, and he saw it through the filter of joy and Truth, and the world looked – different.
“You see,” the other tree rumbled, “you see, now, don’t you, little one?”
“Yes! Yes! I see it, but I don’t understand it!”
The wise tree clapped its hands in laughter. “You bring me much joy, young tree. Much joy!”
The day was done. The warm breeze had faded, and all had become hushed and still. As Chris prepared to take his leave, the tree said to him, “You have come to this valley to find an Answer. I have one to give you. It is this: There is a secret to life — a Mystery. It is ancient. It was written in the language of the Great Tree, before this valley ever saw light. It is contrarian to the powers that crave the soul. It was carved by the Stream on the tablet of time, spoken by the Great Tree into existence, and empowered by the Creature. This Mystery came to us through another tree in time past. One day, we will meet that one.
“You have lost hope in the world just over the ridge. You do not know where to seek it. You do not know how you can continue in that place. But the Mystery of living in the world of ash and smoke is this: Immerse yourself in the Truth and live by the Stream.”
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;  but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.  He is like a tree planted by steams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.  The wicked are not so but are like chaff that the wind drives away.  Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;  for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.