Prayers and Reflections


A Reflection by Darlene Carlson

These days we are nearly back to the social merry go round of pre-covid days, looking ahead and filling our calendars with gatherings and events. Life feels full, and I notice that much of my time and energy involves planning for the future. There is an expectation to schedule, get it done, check it off, and move on to the next thing. It can feel productive to live this way. Though for me it can also feel like I am missing the gift of the moment, and often when I look back it feels like a blur, a whirlwind of action. I ask myself where the time went. Was I even paying attention to what was happening?

Savoring the present moment is an invitation to look deeper in order to see more clearly. I recently had an experience that slowed me down and surprised me with a nudge to peel back another layer. I visited Van Gogh’s “The Immersive Experience,” and it was incredible to see the lilies, sunflowers, and the starry night skies. I felt comforted in the familiar paintings. One surprised me though, his last painting, Tree Roots, left incomplete. 

Tree Roots by Vincent Van Gogh

It wasn’t eye-catching like the bright golden yellows and swirling blues characteristic of Van Gogh. Yet there was something unique and unusual about it. This painting struck me in a different way. As I paused, I wondered about my own root system.

What keeps me firmly planted? Are my roots a tangled mess, surrounded by moist and vitamin-rich soil? Are they stringy and loose, or embedded in dry hardpan dirt with nowhere to go? In this time of introspection, I realized my roots are a combination of what I think I know and much of what I don’t know. 

Faith is a major part of the picture of my roots. These roots of faith are something I tend to take for granted. At times my faith roots are fertilized and enriched by an awe-inspiring walk in the countryside, the sound of crashing waves, the words of a thoughtful sermon, and even in complete stillness and silence. There is an openness, space to move and grow. Other times, my faith roots are neglected, in need of a deep watering, thirsty for more of all that is holy. My faith roots can be surrounded by doubt, the hard rocky soil that tries to choke out my trust. All of my roots are made up of ancestral gifts living on in me along with my lived experiences. As I reflect, I am careful not to judge these roots as good or bad. Rather, I stand deeply rooted in faith and appreciation for all that holds me in this very moment.

What do your faith roots look like? Like Van Gogh’s Tree Roots, each is unique, no one exactly the same and always unfinished with potential for growth. Your culture—languages, food, music, relationships, and experiences, living and past—all nourish your faith story in some way. Take time to be with them and just notice without judgment. Are your roots near the surface, raw and exposed from a challenging time in your life? Are they burrowing down, reaching for something more? How do they steady you for the storm? Notice the soil and what feeds the roots of your faith. There may be certain experiences that energize you, an indication your roots have been nourished. And there are activities that may deplete you. Take in what is going on at a deeper level. Avoid comparing or measuring the experience. Simply pause for this moment. Be in it.  Breathe in the uniqueness of your faith journey. During Advent, Christians turn to the Jesse Tree to honor the roots of Christ.

A shoot shall come out of the stock of Jesse, 

and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

Isaiah 11:1

The tree starts with Jesse, the ancestor of Jesus. Jesse was the father of David, Israel’s greatest king. Jesus is descended from the line of David, and Jesus is the branch God promised would grow from Jesse’s family tree as prophesied in Isaiah. This tree summarizes the roots of the incarnation of Jesus with a symbol representing each person or event along with its scripture to the birth of Jesus. It is the root system of our faith and thus part of our roots too.

The Jesuit spiritual exercises are a compilation of meditations, prayers, and contemplative practices developed by St. Ignatius Loyola to help people deepen their relationship with God. In this practice, we are invited to “consider how as part of ancestral life, we are intimately related to the Creator who lives mysteriously within this creation, embracing emergent life as it grows, dies, and changes – calling life itself forth into great purpose.”[1] By pulling back the layers, we see how we are so intimately connected, the tangled roots of creation, star dust forming our very beings, the hand of God as Creator. 

When we take time to look more deeply this Advent season, our faith can be nourished by the very awareness that Jesus is entwined in our roots, tenderly cultivating, nourishing, and strengthening our faith. God sent us his only Son to live among us as a human and divine being so that we could know his radical love, a gift to treasure and savor in every moment of our lives, rooted in Christ and one another.

Reflect & Share

In what ways would you like to nourish the roots of your faith this Advent season?

How do you see yourself rooted with Christ and one another?

[1] Michael Hansen, SJ., The First Spiritual Exercises: Four Guided Retreats (Notre Dame, Ave Maria Press, 2013), 168.

Published December 2022

If you would like to learn more about the Jesse Tree, take a look here.