lenten journal: an ear to the ground


Last night I went to an ecclesiastical council, which sounds as though I should have been in a fancy robe with a funny hat, but in the United Church of Christ it simply means a gathering of people from the churches in our association to approve someone for ordination pending a call. The candidate told his story, and then people asked questions. One person asked him to talk about the importance of prayer in his life.

That has not been an easy question for me. I am not saying I don’t think prayer is important. I am saying I have wrestled with how it works. I don’t think God waits until there is a critical mass of people asking for a particular thing before someone is healed or some situation resolved. Yet, I pray for healing sometimes. I have struggled with why it matters to pray for Sudan or Somalia or Palestine when I have no apparent contact with anyone in those places. And still I pray.

A couple of months back, I had dinner with one of the authors I worked with and he talked about how he was learning about the ways that trees talk to each other. (Here’s a TED talk about it, if you are interested.) The short version is trees communicate and even share resources through a mycorrhizal network of fungi that can run for miles underground. Our world is full of connections we can’t see. The author went on to say, “It has given me a new way to think about prayer—we are sharing resources through an invisible network.”

His comment helped me. The next morning, I serendipitously came across this poem by Catherine Barnett.


Mostly I’d like to feel a little less, know a little more.
Knots are on the top of my list of what I want to know.
Who was it who taught me to burn the end of the cord
to keep it from fraying?
Not the man who called my life a debacle,
a word whose sound I love.
In a debacle things are unleashed.
Roots of words are like knots I think when I read the dictionary.
I read other books, sure. Recently I learned how trees communicate,
the way they send sugar through their roots to the trees that are ailing.
They don’t use words, but they can be said to love.
They might lean in one direction to leave a little extra light for another tree.
And I admire the way they grow right through fences, nothing
stops them, it’s called inosculation: to unite by openings, to connect
or join so as to become or make continuous, from osculare,
to provide with a mouth, from osculum, little mouth.
Sometimes when I’m alone I go outside with my big little mouth
and speak to the trees as if I were a birch among birches.

I started wearing hearing aids about six years ago. I can remember putting them in and then zipping up my jacket to leave the audiologist’s office. “Did you know that makes noise?” I asked her. In the last year, I have noticed a big change in my hearing, so my audiologist here in Connecticut did the tests again, even though I had them done just a year ago. I have known all along that I cannot hear the higher end of the spectrum without help, but what changed is what they call “clarity of speech.” In one year, my right ear decreased by 20% and my left ear by 40%. The audiologist sent me to see an ENT doctor because the results were unusual. The doctor scheduled me for an MRI to see what they can figure out. He was not alarmist, but said the physical reasons that could cause what is happening could be some sort of blockage, a tumor, or an infection, among other things.

Which brings me to the reason I started off talking about trees. I need to lean into the invisible network that connects us and ask you to pray. Pray that I might feel at ease during the MRI, since confined spaces are not my favorite. Pray that the MRI offers some useful information. Part of me feels like the most difficult answer after the test might be, “We didn’t really find anything conclusive.” Pray that both my frustration at not hearing well and my despair at losing my hearing don’t get the last word, or even the prevailing word. Pray however you want—just send nutrients. I’ll have my ears to the ground.



  1. So interesting, Milton, and this one really resonated with Mesa I love trees, also have lack of speech clarity in my hearing and struggle with what prayer really is. Best of outcomes from the mri and peace during. Close your eyes and imagine the trees.

  2. Have had several MRIs of my head over the years. If they ask what music I would like to hear, I say James Taylor. The breeze across my closed eye face becomes a breeze at the beach and I beam myself there Scottie! Find your peaceful place, think about your breathing and know I add my name to those thinking about and praying for you, adding nutrients to your network.

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