Nature is a master teacher.

I remember it was my first weekend retreat as a seminarian six years ago.

Our seminary traveled to Cleveland at a retreat house with acres of woods, ponds, and trails. Of course, I had the basic questions in my head that all of us encounter in some way or another when we embark on something new in our lives.

These questions were: “Is this really for me?” “Did I make the right decision?” “What if it doesn’t work out?” Even though I had yet to embark on the adventure of seminary, I knew that the answers to my questions would take time.

I decided not to pray in the chapel on the first evening of the retreat and just sit in silence a few yards into the woods during sunset. I had the Bible with me and was reading through the Gospel of John –which the retreat director had us do during the retreat.

I remember after about a half an hour getting up from my seat and just walking over the crest of the hill to look for some deer. I noticed a tree that had been cut down years before –a perfectly straight cut. The base of the tree was enormous.

I thought, “well, how old was this tree?” It’s amazing what wonder and awe can do to anxieties about the future –they dissipate, evaporate, and disappear. Every hunter knows exactly what I am talking about.

I counted the rings on the tree –the number went well past 150 years. I thought about how this tree was standing during the Civil War, World War I, The Great Depression, World War II, landing on the moon in 1969, and so many more pivotal moments in both American and World history.

Then, something struck me which has changed the way I have approached seminary ever since.

The tree didn’t really grow in width during its first six years. After the sixth year, it exploded in width.

“Well, why didn’t the tree grow much in width during the first six years?” I asked myself. I thought about that question throughout the retreat.

There’s only one logical answer –the tree put its energy into its roots during those early years. It was grounded and rooted. Its most impressive work occurred below the soil –in the quiet, in the depths, in the darkness, and in the silence.

I looked at that tree trunk and saw its first six years. I knew at the time that seminary would be roughly six years for me. Also, the word seminarian [seminarius] means seed. That massive tree was once just a small seed.

I haven’t forgotten the lesson from that old tree –a seminarian must be rooted before he ever thinks of bearing fruit. Something tells me that lesson speaks to everyone.

What has been the most valuable lesson that you’ve received through nature?

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Ben Daghir is a transitional deacon for the Diocese of Erie from St. Marys, Pa. He grew up hunting and fishing with his family in Elk County. He credits archery hunting during his high school years as encouraging him to take in the beauty of nature and simply listen to God’s voice. He currently studies at St. Mary’s Seminary & University in Baltimore.

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