“That tree is very important for me,” an older Jesuit said to me, almost 30 years ago. We were at Eastern Point Retreat House in Gloucester, Mass., standing on the broad lawn that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. It was a bright day and the sun glinted off the water. He pointed to a lone evergreen tree, not that tall, leaning to one side, a bit battered.
New to the spiritual life, I had no idea what he was talking about. What’s an “important tree”? I suppressed the urge to laugh or make a joke.
My friend explained that on a retreat many years ago he had a profound spiritual experience while standing under that tree. Now, every time he came to Gloucester, he would see that tree and be reminded of what had happened. Not only the experience itself but the tree became “important” to him.
Lately, I have noticed an increasing tendency for people to critique many such “important trees” in the spiritual life.
But a deeper and more serious issue is the critique or even condemnation of things that hold great spiritual meaning for individual believers.
In seeing the many things that move others, I have learned not to judge. The Holy Spirit knows better than I do.
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The Rev. James Martin, S.J., is a Jesuit priest, author and editor at large at America.
With thanks to America Magazine and Fr James Martin SJ, where this article originally appeared.