By: Susan Austin
*Taken from the Epilogue of Victor Lee Austin’s book: Losing Susan: Brain Disease, The Priest’s Wife, and the God Who Gives and Takes Away.
After God made the world, he took his little servant, man, and taught him to pray like this: “Bow your head,” said God, “and say ‘Lord, have mercy,’ and then you will do what is right.” Similarly, he taught his little servants the animals to pray: “Be faithful to your own,” said God, “keep your families, and sing the songs I have taught you, and then you will do what is right.” But to the trees he taught no prayer.
“What about us, Lord?” they asked him. “Teach us to pray like the others.” But God said, “Wait, little friends. I don’t yet know what to teach you.” Then he went back to heaven and rested for three days from his worries. He sent Michael the Archangel to watch over things in his absence and commanded him to report back every day on the state of things.
The first day Michael came back and said: “The men are praying the way you taught them.” “Yes, I hear them,” said God. “They are faithful servants to me.” So Michael went back to earth.
The second day he came into God’s presence and said: “The animals are praying the way you taught them.” God said, “I hear them – they are my faithful servants.” So Michael went back to earth.
The third day he came into heaven and said: “O God forever blessed! Some of your servants are sorrowing.” God said, “How can that be, Michael? I don’t hear any cries.” “O God forever blessed!” said Michael. “Your trees are grieving because you never taught them how to pray. They are mourning, and in their great sorrow they are tearing off their leaves and scattering them on the ground.” At those words God remembered that he had not taught them, and he took pity on his faithful servants.
He descended down to earth and walked among them. At first they never saw him because of the great burden of their sorrow; they tore off their leaves and strewed them on him as he walked under their branches. At last God himself wept in his mercy and made himself known to them.
“O trees, my little friends,” he said, “stop tearing off your leaves and scattering them about but listen to me. Listen carefully, because I have thought of a prayer for you to pray.”
Instantly the trees stopped their lamentations and composed themselves to listen. “Hear me then, trees,” said God. “This is the way you must pray: not with words nor with songs, but with silence, and branches lifted up in supplication. Don’t be afraid that I won’t hear you. I have ears to hear the most silent heart and I love to pour myself out in the quietness. Only keep your branches forever raised in prayer, and I will not forget you.”
“O King, be praised forever,” said the trees in their joy, and with once accord they raised their branches up in supplication to heaven, and fell into a deep silence. So God went back up to his throne and listened with love to the prayers of all his faithful servants.
Now it happened that the world fell into misery and death; and God, to defeat death, sent his own beloved Son to die. The way that it was arranged for him to perish was by hanging on the wood of a tree, and at this the trees were aghast.
“Lord,” they said in the stillness of their hearts, “didn’t we cradle him when he was a child?” “You did,” said God, remembering. “Also,” they said, ‘didn’t we give a livelihood to his father so he could eat?” “You did,” said God, remembering. “Didn’t we form the boat from which he taught the crowds?” “All this is true,” said God. “Then, O!” they mourned, “why must he suffer on us, why must our hard, stiff nature be the thing on which he breaks himself and dies? Why have you appointed us to treat the Beloved so bitterly?” God looked at the trees most tenderly and said, “My dear ones, you have not yet plumbed the depths of my love.”
But they did not believe him and when God’s Son had died and light was extinguished out of the world, with one accord they dropped their branches and tore off their leaves in mourning.
“The Son is dead,” they wailed, “and we have killed him! He died to save us but we did not save him! He is gone and joy is gone forever!” Likewise so wailed all the animals and men.
And God also wept on his throne in heaven.
But after he had done weeping, he plumbed the depths of his love and at the very heart and deepest place of his love he found the dead Son and this Son he brought back into the light of day. This happened early in the morning.
Now God’s Son was walking about in a garden and the silent trees saw him. An awe stole over them, though they did not recognize him: but slowly, slowly they lifted their bare, ragged branches up towards heaven: and the dawn began to break.
And slowly, slowly a new sap ascended through all their veins and capillaries, and they began to wonder if they understood the extent of God’s love. And the Man walking in the garden reminded them a little of God’s Son: and the sky turned pink and gold.
And just as the sun rose, they recognized their Beloved and saw that he was alive, and with one accord they burst into flower, and the scent of those flowers rose straight to the throne of God.
Thus God taught them to pray twice: once at the very beginning of the world, and once when he gave them a new prayer to pray after they had plumbed the depths of his love.