June 21st, 2020 Sunday Service Message: Lessons from the Turtle – “The Gift of the Tree”

Roots from Seeds of Love

In the third of her series of talks based on Steve Goodier’s Lessons from the Turtle1, Rev. Joanne continues the story of the spiritual unfoldment of Turtle by telling us The Gift of the Tree.  We pick up the tale from last week when Turtle learned how his ‘accident’ that landed him on his back also contained within it the blessing of gaining new perspectives on the world.

Still topsy turvy, Turtle continues his conversation with his new friend Owl.  Moving his gaze from the sky and the birds Owl asked him to observe last week, Turtle now is puzzled at another new sight – large, tall, pointed green spires.  Not knowing what these strange things are, Turtle learns from Owl that they are trees.  Turtle has encountered trees before, but he tells Owl that trees are just large brown obstacles, immovable, covered with hard bark.

Once again asking Turtle to look at the world in a new way, Owl tells him that a tree represents the wonderful and unique nature of every person.  It is true, as Turtle already knew, that trees are immovable objects, but as Owl explains that is an expression of the special place in the world that tree has.  Each of us, like a tree, has a special place in the world.

We are much more complex and interesting creatures than a tree, so finding our special place in the world can often take a very long time.  From the beginning of our existence as a species, humans have been driven by discovering the unknown, moving beyond the familiar and safe – outside of our cave, across the river, beyond the next valley.  Just as we are naturally curious about discovering the world around us, so too we are curious about discovering the world within us.

There are risks in a voyage of discovery.  Will we sail off the edge of the world, are there sea monsters, dangerous animals, hostile peoples, barren landscape, harsh weather?  Our internal voyage of discovery can be just as fraught with uncertainty.  What am I actually looking for, how will I recognize it when I find it, what do I do if I change my mind, what if my family objects?

Volumes have been written and will continue to be written about how to find your path is life.  Common among most of them are taking some sort of inventory of where we are now.  So what does that mean?  A good place to start is to get a piece of paper and a sharp pencil and write down an honest list of one’s patterns of behavior, attitudes, desires, strengths, weaknesses and motivations.  For example, are you more inclined to be orderly and meticulous or free form and spontaneous?  Are you more oriented to people activities or toward building things?  Are you artistic and creative or mathematically inclined?  Are you motivated by relationship building or for financial abundance and the good that can be accomplished by sharing prosperity?  There are no right or wrong answers.  But we do need to ask ourselves the questions.

If you get the inside right, the outside will fall into place.  Primary reality is within; secondary reality without.  Eckhart Tolle

Now having asked the question ‘What is my purpose?’ and taken personal inventory, how do we know that we know?  The truth is that asking the question ‘What is my purpose,’ is one that is never answered once and for all.  It is a lifelong ongoing process.  As we learn, grow, and mature, our perspective on life, like Turtle’s, will change.  But therein is not just a challenge but a joy.  Life is for learning, loving, and serving.  In the end, we must trust ourselves.  If we do not, we will be frozen in time and in place.

We shall never learn to feel and respect our real calling and destiny, unless we have taught ourselves to consider every thing as moonshine, compared with the education of the heart.  Sir Walter Scott

And what if we change our minds?  As with a exploration of the landscape, there are detours, roadblocks, dead ends and U-turns.  These obstacles in no way diminish the efforts made up to that point or indicate that a wrong path was taken.  It is all information we can use to our benefit and re-direct our path moving forward.  In nature, the inability to adapt can be fatal.  So too can the inability or unwillingness to change our minds be detrimental to our progress and development.

People wish to be settled; only as far as they are unsettled is there any hope for them.  Ralph Waldo Emerson

Our lives are not lived in isolation.  Our family, friends, and colleagues affect us and are affected by us.  What concern should we have for the “good opinion of others?”  As with so many things in life, the answer is in love.  Those who we love and love us will accept us.  But we must first accept ourselves, and be willing to give loving acceptance in return.

The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image.  If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them.  Thomas Merton

The Gift of the Tree is to learn the lesson of honoring oneself.  Like a tree rooted in place, when life inevitably brings stormy weather, we will be able to stand tall and strong.  But being too rigid can also bring trouble.  Palm trees grow in tropical regions of the world where the high winds of hurricanes are common.  They have strong roots, but are flexible enough to absorb the power of the wind and return to an healthy upright position when the storm has passed.  Trees that are less flexible do not survive.  So too should we not be too rigid and narrow in our vision of what fulfilling our life purpose may look like.  Rev. Joanne tells us the story of a bus driver whose passion was for singing.  Circumstances perhaps did not allow for him to pursue a career as a professional singer, but that did not prevent him from sharing his gift with the world.  He would sing while driving his route.  He became so well loved that passengers would pass up taking an earlier bus to wait for his arrival so that they could share in his joyful expression of life.  Not having our plans met as we may have wished or expected is not necessarily settling for something less than ideal, but simply an example of a different means through which we can share our unique talents with the world.

As Rev. Joanne tells us, the important thing to remember is to allow our purpose to be big enough so that no matter where we are “planted” in life that we can still find a way to fulfill it.


For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.  Ephesians 2:10

Spiritual Practice:

Make a list of your personality traits and skills that you enjoy.  Take time this week to consider your list.  What aspects of your list support you in discerning your purpose?  Contemplate your purpose and passion as you consider the list.  Recognize yourself as the unique individualized of the Divine.  How can you live into your purpose this week?

Greg Skuderin

1Goodier, Steve, Lessons of the Turtle, Living Right Side Up, Life Support System Pub Inc, 2002.