Tag Archive | Olivier Clement

One-Minute Icon: The sad garden and the happy tree #epiphany

the happy tree can lead us out of the sad garden

I came across these words of Michael Katakis, a photographer who puts words and pictures together.

I thought it to be a sad garden whose only harvest was regret.

Those words made me think of our minds which can become a sad garden, when we become totally identified with our self-preoccupied narratives which are often negative and automatic.  However, things outside of ourselves can spring us out of our minds and into life.

In his book Holiness Donald Nicholl tells the story of how a face saved the life of Olivier Clement, the Orthodox theologian.

Olivier was at the time an atheist, although so unhappy he was considering suicide. As he walked along depressed, ‘his attention was riveted by the face of someone who was passing by. The person’s face was so radiant with meaning, full of such goodness as can only come from years of cultivating a loving heart. In a twinkling Clement’s suicidal thoughts were dispelled and a seed sown in his heart that was eventually to transform him into an ardent believer…’ (p.49)

This photo is of an ordinary humble tree. But whenever I see it it always glows with colour. If I am in the sad garden, this happy tree pulls me out of it. It has been an epiphany.

It doesn’t shout, or clap its hands, but it radiates joy. But in a twinkling it takes me out of myself.

Step out of clocktime for one minute. Look at the tree and notice your feelings. Are you in the sad garden or with the happy tree? What is the theology of your face today? Olivier Clement says there is a ‘theology of faces’.

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An eco-no to evil – the mindful tree

In ‘The Roots of Christian Mysticism’ by Olivier Clement there is a fragment of a quote from Paul Claudel talking about the art of Japanese painters. This is in a chapter entitled The Glory of God Hidden in His Creatures and the quote says ‘for them, the visible world was a perpetual allusion to Wisdom, like that great tree which, with unutterable majesty, says No to evil for us’ (p.223).

Paul Claudel apparently had a profound conversion to Catholicism at the age of 18. I can’t be sure what great tree he is talking about, but the tree that sprung to my mind was the mysterious tree ‘of the knowledge of good and evil’ (Genesis 2:17).

What struck me about what Claudel might be helping us to understand is why this mysterious tree is there in Genesis. Maybe it is called the tree of the knowlege of good and evil, to help us say No to evil – it is an eco-No. Claudel also said in La Ville, ‘A pure eye and a fixed gaze see every object becoming transparent in front of them'(p.222, Clement).

The great tree is there in Genesis to help us say No to evil, and perhaps that embodied Wisdom is in every tree. If we looked at any tree attentively enough, we might see the ‘No’ of God written in each leaf, the No to evil.

One of the great evils, therefore, is how we treat trees and the rest of Creation. The obvious example is the continued destruction of the rain forest. It seems that the eco-No was there in the beginning. Wisdom sits in the tree, and we need to notice it.