Good Zeal

My Profession Tree

Crabapple tree in full bloomEach year I am amazed and awed at the beauty of the flowering crabapple tree located at the south end of the main monastery building. At this time of the year it is full of so many fuchsia-colored buds and blossoms. It has prospered well in its current location, but that wasn’t always the case. It is a transplant…with a shady past!

In 2003, the Saturday after Thanksgiving was the day of my Perpetual Monastic Profession. At the Agape gathering in the old Community Dining Room the evening before, Sister Kathleen gifted me with this crabapple seedling that, at the time, looked like a fifteen-inch stick stuck in a pot. Before my parents left, my dad and I weathered the cold to find a place to plant this tiny promise of a tree where it might survive. We chose a spot off of the road to the cemetery, set back behind one of the outdoor Stations of the Cross and well-distanced from anything else so that it would have plenty of room to grow. There was plenty of room all around for the riding mowers to mow around it and lots of blue sky above for it to get sunlight.

Planting the seedling in the ground was fairly easy because it was so small; however, when we stood back and looked at it, it was nearly invisible. Dad said that we needed to flag it, if it was to have any chance at survival. He walked back to the monastery to scrounge around and see what he might find. He came back with a large fuchsia-colored, organza floral bow, likely to have been on a flower arrangement in the chapel. He wrapped the floral wire of the bow around the stem. We laughed at the absurdity of such a large bow on such a small tree. That would do the trick—it most definitely stood out! You couldn’t miss it.

Months and years passed and the bow had done its trick. The tiny seedling survived the seasonal mowing. Each year it had more height and more leaves as one would expect. Within five or six years the tree was almost up to my shoulder. In the springtime there were small clusters of flowers but they were not ever abundant. When the floral bow had become completely limp, faded and dirty with time, I finally removed it, remembering the humorous-yet-tender moment with my dad years before.

The major renovation project of 2011-2014 included plans for re-routing the upper portion of the cemetery road to accommodate the widening of the main road from the front of the chapel to the new guest parking area in the back. My profession tree was right in the middle of the demolition zone for the new road. Fortunately, it was among the plantings that were salvaged with great effort from the north end of the monastery and replanted at the south end between the renovation phases. Much care and attention were given to nurture the transplanted trees and bushes in spite of the fact that there was minimal topsoil placed on top of all the gravel that was hauled in to support the heavy renovation equipment. We didn’t know if anything would survive, especially the trees, in such an unaccommodating environment.

The transplanting, however, turned out to be an unexpected blessing for my profession tree. The new location allows it to have full sun most of the day and has plenty of room to spread its branches in all directions. Each year it seems to have more blossoms than any previous year. I have come to realize that the original location was “too safe” for the sapling to fully thrive. The towering pines caused too much shade. The daring risk we took in moving it was exactly what it needed to develop to its fullest potential. There is a notable lesson in this.

This is the 20th spring for my profession tree here at Sacred Heart Monastery, and it is a sight of beauty to behold. It welcomes the Sisters home from daily trips to town and from long journeys around the world. It whispers a silent goodbye to each of us as we head out for a walk or a drive. While some see only one tree among many, I see a monastic life lived side-by-side with my own. Like it, I too am a transplant—from the bayou country of Louisiana to the red clay hilltop of Cullman, Alabama. This tree encourages me in my stability to this Benedictine community and this way of life. This is where God wanted me to be planted so that I might grow to my fullest potential. This tree reminds me just “to be” in the warmth of God’s loving mercy and compassion when I am overcome by too much “doing.” It challenges me to do the inner work that only God can see during the winter-like seasons of life. This tree, by just being itself, is a lesson to me in so many ways, providing inroads to the depths of spiritual reflection. Admiring its humble beauty gets me out of my analytical thinking and into the creatureliness of my body.

Thanks be to Sister Kathleen and to God for this precious companion on the journey of life!

By Sister Therese Haydel, OSB

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