Prayer for a Tree

We are delighted to present this “little piece from Coggeshall” by writer Anne Boileau. “I’m obviously not getting out and about much at the moment, so it’s local,” she tells us.
We’re almost there, Anne… in the meantime, thank you so much for this.

Prayer for a Tree

 I’ve got a twig in my hand. It was borrowed this morning from a certain unassuming tree, a tree that is common here in Essex. It is uncelebrated, undervalued and seldom chosen to adorn a garden. However, in just one week the alders in Coggeshall have undergone an astonishing transformation; in fact, you could say that in one modest twig is held all the complexity and wonder of this season, which never fails to astonish and delight us. I speak of the alder tree.
The tight purple male catkins from last month have opened up, are hanging loose and long, scattering yellow pollen. The smaller female catkins have turned into tiny red flowers to catch the pollen. They will plump up over the summer into green ovoid fruits. Last year’s fruits also remain, suspended on the twig; they are cones, which implies that this tree is the anomaly of a broadleaved conifer.
Alders grow in tall rows by Robin’s Brook and are proliferating out into the field with vigorous saplings from their roots; they stand along the banks of the Blackwater and don’t mind having their roots submerged. They capture nitrogen from lightning in root nodules, thereby enriching the ground beneath them. Alder wood was once valued for whistles, pipes, bridge piles, cartwheels and clogs, and dye was extracted from its bark.
The March tree, a man’s tree, a magic tree.
Soon, the tight leaf buds will open, too, and all the branches will be dressed in fresh shiny leaves.
I recently attended a Zoom poetry workshop presented by the World Community of Christian Meditation. It was led by the Belfast poet Padraig O Tuama; he leads groups for Christian meditation and is a facilitator for reconciliation meetings.
He says the Prayer Book is full of poetry and pointed out that the Collect in is fact is a short poem; like a sonnet, it follows a strict form, though it does not rhyme.
This is the structure of a Collect: first you address whoever it is you want to pray to; then you qualify that deity in some way; thirdly you make your request, then say it again in a different way, giving some justification for the request.
Finally, you conclude the prayer with what Padraig calls a ‘Bird of Praise’. This could be simply Amen or anything else that sounds positive and grateful.
He then encouraged us to have a go at writing one ourselves.
So I’ve written a collect from the point of view of alder trees, supposing they are given to saying their prayers. I think they do pray, just simply by their tranquil and reassuring dignity and presence along our brooks and riverbanks.

Almighty Protector of Trees
towards whom all twigs and branches reach
and to whom all growth rings and bark fissures are known
allow days to lengthen that our buds and catkins may open
send down your lightning to enrich our roots
so that we may hold firm riverbanks and wet places
and offer shelter to those winged things that fly by day and by night
to Thy praise and glory

                                                                                                Anne Boileau
                                                                                                March 2021

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