a love letter to trees

by hermann hesse

For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.

A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.

A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.

When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts… Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.

100-year-old love letter to trees by Hermann Hesse (July 2, 1877–August 9, 1962), Originally published in Hesse’s 1920 collection of fragments, Wandering: Notes and Sketches

artful cussing

i cultivated my cussing on the playground basketball court.

inside the classrooms at st paul school, we learned about the good things we ought to do. but on their outdoor basketball court during recess and after school in the 70s, there was a more organic education–cussing. the older kids were the teachers. salty language was common playing hoops.

when i got frustrated on the playground, an expletive would fly. a missed shot, a turnover, when the kid i was guarding scored on me. these were all occasions to let loose my tongue.

bad language to this day does not bother me. in fact, i admire one who can drop a well place expletive when it fits the occasion. over the decades, i have learned to suppress cussing when frustrations occur. i became somewhat civilized. people should not hear bad words– especially from a priest’s mouth. clerical cussing is scandalous.

at home now as my mother’s son, i cuss regularly.

i have cussed more in these past four years since returning to seattle than my vowed years as a claretian missionary. i took my vows in 1990. i am not proud to say that my reactive language could make a sailor blush.

i am still in “reactive mode” while taking care of my mother. when i get frustrated, i cuss. these are situations that happen, that i cannot control or i think should not be happening. yes, i know about the fifth commandment of honoring father and mother…

yesterday was a cussing day for me.

at times, my mother gets it in her mind that we have to go somewhere. i am not sure where– i don’t think she really knows either, but feeling is real for her. when i try to explain that we do not have to go anywhere, it falls on deaf ears. so my mom incessantly pleads, “we have to go, we haven to go, we have to go.” all in ilocano– her native dialect.

then it ramps up. i try to ignore her imploring. but then mom’s supplications change to begging. and then the begging is amplified with a whining tone.

then, i react. my frustration hits the boiling point. i cuss

expletives flow from my lips. i am ashamed that my own mother is the object of my filthy mouth. after the fact, i realize that my fiery, angry eyes accompanied the harsh words. it is too late, the reaction cannot be erased.

i am thankful that my mother is not really listening to my words– she is still pleading her case. but i know that my hurtful gaze is a clear message of my anger and frustration. this does not escape her.

when i cool off and realize my sin, my heart sinks. how many countless times have i tried to react differently? why do i get so irrationally emotional? why can’t i control my angry words and glaring?

i want my mother to hear my logical explanations and understand. but she can’t. her mind is in a different place than before her stroke. but i cannot remember or accept it in the heat of the moment. my negative reactions are proof. my frustrations are not her fault. my frustrations and anger are my own.

in writing this admission, i taste my contrition. in tasting my contrition, i hate this part of my being.

when i confront my sinfulness in prayer, i remember the words from luke 18: 13

“the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.'”

i am learning about God’s mercy in new ways through my mother. lessons in humility are thrust upon me in my sinfulness. is God’s healing grace really enough to carry me through this?

on the basketball court, the game ends; my frustrations are left there. today, i wake up in the same situation, within the same four walls. will i react differently or do i just bring my old self to the new frustrating situations before me?

as we had just celebrated pentecost, i ask myself, “do i really act in accord to the Spirit’s gifts of wisdom, understanding and right judgment?”

the Spirit of gratitude

on this pentecost sunday, i thank God for my nieces jennifer and valerie. because of my commitment as a claretian priest, i do not know firsthand the gift of being a father. so my nieces have been dear to my heart since they entered into this word.

now in their mid 30s, they are in the homestretch of their young adult years. jennifer works in the worship office of the archdiocese of seattle. valerie is a registered nurse for kaiser.

this past week, i was able to attend our claretian assembly in chicago. it was the first time i had seen my brothers face to face since november 2019. in seeing them, i feel extremely blessed. support from my brother claretians has kept me afloat during my time in seattle caring for my mother.

i left my mother in my nieces’ grand-daughterly care while i went to chicago. they made a special sacrifice of their family time these past days to help my mother be safe, fed and happy. i owe valerie and jennifer my debt of gratitude.

also, i cannot thank them both enough for the daily care they give their grandmother. because of my insufficient emotional maturity, one of them must come to help my mother shower in the morning. since valerie’s office is downstairs, she comes most often; jennifer helps my mom the other days.

i would go crazy if i had to attend to my mothers personal needs. as it stands now, i still get extremely stressed when i accompany her to the bathroom. i can literally feel my blood pressure rise significantly.

my nieces so generously share their God given gifts. st paul references this type of love in the second reading for today from corinthians 12:

Brothers and sisters:
No one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit;
there are different forms of service but the same Lord;
there are different workings but the same God
who produces all of them in everyone.
To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit
is given for some benefit.

As a body is one though it has many parts,
and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body,
so also Christ.
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body,
whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons,
and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.

so i am grateful for the Spirit that works in and through jennifer and valerie. they are a gift to me and my mother. and i love them profoundly. i pray the Lord’s blessings, grace, joy and strength over them today and all days.

does mom remember?

my mother has her morning coffee and breakfast at 7:45am. at some point while she eats, i ask her three questions: mom, what’s your name? what is your sisters name? how old are you? i’ll try to give her clues when she struggles to remember.

every morning. she usually remember her name; once in a while remembers her sister’s name; rarely know her age.

if she answers with any modicum of lucidity, i’ll venture further with an additional question: what was your husband’s name? since they were married for 62 years, she ought to remember the name “rudy”, no? well, no…

if i am feeling extra bold i will ask this question: “mom, what’s my name?” her response is usually a blank stare. i’ll give some clues: “i’m your son…you’re my mother… i live with you here in your house.” after more silent moments, i’ll tell her “arthur.” once in a awhile, mom will respond with a knowing smile. but usually she does not know who i am

i am used to this knowing-not knowing morning routine now. no surprises.

for me, asking the question about my name is like buying a lottery ticket. a favorable outcome is highly unlikely. initially there’s a glimmer of hope. but in waiting for the answer i desire, it never comes from her lips. i know that my heart will drop when i get the blank stare. but i am impelled to ask the question none the less. i feel disappointed. it is part of the cross i carry.

mom had slight dementia. but after her stroke in 2019, the doctor explained she was not physically affected but much of her memory is now gone. also, she will not be able to connect easily her remaining memories with what comes out of her mouth. i had to take a solitary walk after that news.

what i heard the doc say was, “mom will never know who i am anymore.” i cried

so i learned to live with this new relationship with my mother during the covid lockdowns. mom somewhat knows that i am a person she can trust although she does not quite know who i am. when she wants to get my attention, she calls me “manong.” a respectful filipino moniker for an old man. well, i am preparing for my 60th birthday…

mom now speaks four languages: ilocano, tagalog, english and gibberish. she makes up her own words when her brain and mouth are disconnected. i am still learning that dialect.

but every now and then, light breaks through the clouds. i could be in the next room and i will hear my mother call for me, “arthur, arthur.” my heart jumps when i hear my name from her lips. she actually DOES know who i am. she needs me. she will show me a crow that landed in the trees across the street. she smiles.

this surprise blessing of hearing my name melts away the disappointments of blank stares.

eventhough the cross exists, grace abounds. the Holy Spirit moves within us and in our loved ones in uncontrollable ways. in my better moments i remember this dynamic of faith. in my best moments, i give thanks to God for these surprises of love.


isaiah 49: 13-15

Sing out, heavens, and rejoice, earth,

break forth into song, you mountains,

For the LORD comforts his people

and shows mercy to his afflicted.

But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me;

my Lord has forgotten me.”

Can a mother forget her infant,

be without tenderness for the child of her womb?

Even should she forget,

I will never forget you.

podcasting into the future?

rosendo urrabazo stayed with me and my mother the past couple of days. he is the provincial for our usa-canada province of claretian missionaries. his visit was a true blessing.

we talked about many things: the challenges of caring for my mother, current happenings in ministry and community, his experiences in leadership, travel, our upcoming claretian assembly and chapter, spanish-speaking church movements, food, theology, our families/history, bruce lee and jimmy hendrix; technological tools and a lot more!

we also talked about future ministry possibilities for me after caregiving for my mother is done. do i have another parish ministerial stint in me? might the time be ripe for me to work in restorative justice (jail/prison) ministry? is leadership development or community organizing in the spanish speaking communities possible?

rosendo asked me to discern a couple of things: mentoring a new pastor and podcasting my caregiving experiences.

i enjoy parish work– but NOT as a pastor. rosendo liked my idea about being in a parish and accompanying a new pastor. mentoring is part of my skill set. what does it mean to “mentor” in today’s world of ministry?

i have enjoyed writing these musings and conjectures about life in general. the posts have helped me on a personal level. tangentially, i have shared some of my experiences at home with my 99 year old mother. rosendo thinks that many people would be interested in such a blog about my first hand experiences.

for me, is a specific caregiving podcast the evolution of the written blog?

if you are reading this, what do you think about a podcast regarding my care-giving experiences with my mother?

“the Spirit is a movin’…”

the power of psalm 23

later this morning, i will see my childhood friend ted schmidt at st paul church. he and i attended elementary school there. we have lasting memories from st paul. these experiences have shaped us

i have the honor of presiding at the funeral mass of ted’s mother. i carry fond memories of her kindness and concern. she and mr schmidt surprised me by attending my ordination as a deacon in 1993 at the san gabriel mission in california!

the last words mrs schmidt heard on this earth were from the chaplain praying psalm 23. this morning, i pondered the new jerusalem translation:

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

In grassy meadows he lets me lie. By tranquil streams he leads me to restore my spirit.

He guides me in paths of saving justice as befits his name.

Even were I to walk in a ravine as dark as death I should fear no danger, for you are at my side. Your staff and your crook are there to soothe me.

You prepare a table for me under the eyes of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup brims over.

Kindness and faithful love pursue me every day of my life. I make my home in the house of the Lord for all time to come.

these song lyrics are three thousand years old and they still pierce the human heart. today, i linger on this verse:

Even were I to walk in a ravine as dark as death I should fear no danger, for you are at my side.

how much comfort do these words give to our souls? what if these were the last words that we heard in the last moments of life?

we give the Lord thanks for you mrs. schmidt. you are a loving gift to us from God. pray for us as we walk the dark ravines of life. pray that we remember the Lord is always at our side. rest in the good shepherd’s embrace.

let it rip!

i am still beaming. the other night, i caught up with an old friend/teacher over the phone. deacon david suley is a true gift from God in so many ways. his words that night– plus many previous conversations– were inspirations from the Spirit.

david used a phrase to sum up his current outlook in life. it is seen in his preaching on difficult topics such as immigration at the southern border. the phrase is “let it rip.” say what needs to be said regardless of the consequences. this sentiment resonates with me. most preachers of the gospel understand this ideal. i want and need to hear some of deacon david’s homilies!

it is difficult to do.

why? because we often soften the words and message to make it palatable to those who hear the words. as public speakers prepare for the audience that will hear our words, we can filter out areas and words that we know will upset folks. politicians mention tax increases to their own demise.

those who enter the pulpit have had the experience of people hearing a different message from what was actually said. at times, even a totally unrelated or exact opposite message is interpreted!

but at a certain age, the preacher’s filter can diminish or even be totally removed. “let it rip” represents this freedom in sermons and homilies. the Holy Spirit moves through such truth telling. it is the attraction of martin luther king jr’s words. we are convicted in the evil we do; we desire the grace, healing, love and hope only God can give.

i wonder if i will ever reach this unfiltered let-it-rip point. i wonder if i do, how much i will cuss. God forbid it at the pulpit!

in my own reflection, his phrase can be tweaked too. my variation is “let it r.i.p. (rest in peace)” it is a riff on the phrase the director of my clinical pastoral education experience used to ask: “when are you going to give that up?” as i continue to work through my own personality quirks and sinfulness, i tend to hang on to things that bring stress to myself and others. how can i let go of these non essential actions and attitutdes that bring no good?

well, let it rest in peace. let me rest in peace

to close, i share a quote from st augustine. because of jesus’ love for us and his new commandment (john 13: 31ff) of “loving one another”, i will use it during my homilies today.

“What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of women and men. That is what love looks like.”

let it rip!


in my 28 years as a priest, i have heard thousands of confessions. each conversation is important to the person in that sacrament of healing. and healing is gifted in wonderful ways. grace happens in confession, not because of me, but because of the mystery of God’s love.

i have heard many women over these years confess the sin of abortion. they wanted to be forgiven by God and have their hearts healed by God’s peace. in the confessional when i hear the word abortion, my heart sinks. the tone of these conversations shows their wounded souls. for many, these wounds have festered for years.

in the sacrament of reconciliation, we remember that God’s will for us is peace and healing of heart. in reconciliation, we hear of God’s unconditional love through God’s boundless mercy. in reconciliation, we remember who we really are: a daughter or son of God. women who confess having abortions receive these graces in Spirit-filled ways when they leave the confessional.

today, i pray for God’s love to break the power of death and suffering in all wounded souls because of abortion. the lives of those unborn sons and daughters of God who never saw the light of day are our contemporary “holy innocents.” the silent cries of the mothers who have no where to turn. the families that seek wholeness and healing.

may we all be instruments of God’s healing grace.