I think that most of my readers and hearers remember who Anne Franck was—the teenaged Jewish girl who with her family and another one, lived in hiding from the Nazis for about two years in an Amsterdam attic during World War II. In the end, though, they were discovered and most of them died in Nazi extermination camps, including Anne herself. However, she left behind her diary which has become a milestone in the history of oppression and suffering; in it, she records the thoughts and feelings of an adolescent living in terribly difficult circumstances, and always with the possibility of death hanging over her.
One of the few bright elements in her long incarceration was a tree that grew in the backyard of the building in which they were hiding; it, and the birds that flew by, were the only living things that Anne could see from her windows. It spoke to her of life, freedom, growth, joy, and the goodness of the God of creation.
On my recent trip, I found an article in an English-language newspaper in Europe, which I found very moving. That tree that brought some joy to the young Anne is dying, and the people of Amsterdam have formed a committee to try to keep it alive. I hope they succeed. Some trees like olives and redwoods live for centuries, but most die before that. As I read that article, I thought of all the trees that we have here on the grounds of this monastery in east Texas. There are HUNDREDS of them: pines, oaks, elms, sycamores, sweet-gum, crepe myrtle, mimosa. Each of their leaves and needles is a tongue that speaks to us of God; of beauty, life, freedom, growth, joy—just as the tree in Amsterdam spoke to Anne Franck. This morning at Mass, I gave the Sisters the assignment of looking out the windows and really LOOKING at the trees which we all see all the time. We call ourselves contemplatives; it is therefore necessary that we be alert, aware, awake to God’s beauty, goodness, and truth in all his creation.
You, too, my friends. Look very seriously at a tree today and allow the words of Kilmer to speak to you along with the tree itself: “Poems are made by fools like me, but only God can make a tree.” Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.