I have long felt that plants tell us more about spiritual things in our lives than animals do. While we can be as cunning as a fox or as quiet as a mouse, it doesn’t quite have the same effect as watching some flowers turn their heads towards the sun all through the day, or learning that plants take in sunlight for food – because they photosynthesise.
Turn over the back of a leaf off a tree and you will often see the basic pattern of the whole tree there, in each of its leaves. This will remind us that each of us has been made in the image and likeness of God. Many of the forms of flowers are obvious representations of our collective belonging to the Lord, as in the above picture of one daisy. The centre is the Lord. Notice the way that this is golden. We are the petals formed round the edge with each one joining and being held in its position by the divine all-in- all.
Let’s add a helpful thing to that simple illustration, that for us to truly appreciate and understand where some fellow human being is in relation to us, we don’t do that directly; we must first go to the Lord at the centre and then out to where this person is. And we ‘petals’ all look alike, but closer scrutiny would show us that every daisy petal is quite unique.
Grass grows quietly by itself, unnoticed, and at times it gets mown. So it is not very surprising that Jesus, when he fed the five thousand with the food of bread and fish, made them sit down in groups upon the green grass.
Fern fronds are tight springs all coiled up which gradually open up and spread out into spreading fronds. And the fronds themselves are fractals, a pattern of what can be an infinitely similar repeating pattern. Take a fern frond and look at how it is arranged.
Lichens, those flattish pale green round fairly boring plants on trees and stones, are a case in point. They are not one plant but two: the fusion of two completely different species – an algae and a fungus – whose union produced a mutual help system which worked. This is called a symbiotic relationship. It reminds us (of course) of the marriage of good and truth or the marriage of husband and wife in conjugial love, in which our wish to do what is good seeks out the truth we need so that our action may be ”truly good”.
Moss. The wonder of moss is that when it goes through a long period of dryness (we might describe that as a temptation) it “shuts down”. What it doesn’t do is to die! It conserves and preserves itself, so that the next fall of rain will bring it back to life and being green again. When we go through some temptation conflict, we are then very dependent upon the Lord to take us through this, because as it is for us we have little or no resource to draw on apart from that.
The other thing about moss is that its seed-head is remarkably different according to what kind of moss it is. Every year, the individual stem of a moss shoots up a fruitful head, a large set of spores that float off and begin mossing elsewhere. In fact, mosses are identified by their ‘caps’ or their spore-heads which at some time, go off like a fire cracker and throw the spores far and wide. But it begins with a veritable “bang”!
And perhaps the most mysterious of plants, the fungae (toadstools and mushrooms). To see a slender toadstool stem pushing determinedly through invincible tarmac is a joy to behold. But the real life of a toadstool is all in its hidden interweaving going on underground, a carpet of mycelia, or threads of connection. Now there, you see, is an obvious spiritual correspondence: the way in which Divine Providence is always sustaining us and maintaining our (hidden) form.
I have several books written by New Church/Swedenborgian people on the plants that are mentioned in the Bible.
Here are several extracts –
“The Lord God planted a garden east of Eden. And out of the ground the Lord God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.” With those innocent people knowledge wasn’t laboriously acquired, because they enjoyed spiritual perceptions of truth from the Lord.” (The Language of Parable by William Worcester).
“Behold how good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity.” (Psalm 133.1)” It is like precious oil, running down”0, because it depends so much on the presence of kindness (oil) among them.
Palm trees are remarkable for growing in deserts and they have no branches but all the growth is in the topmost crown. The knowledge to which it corresponds must relate to one exalted theme, which is the knowledge of the Lord.
The oak is a tree much more useful for its wood than for its fruit. Indeed the name ‘oak’ is used Biblically in a general way for many trees. The quality of ‘oakness’ is in its strength and durability because it lives hundreds of years. Here we have, not so much the higher heavenly perceptions of spiritual principles but more the grasp of simpler natural principles of what is right in the early stages of our regeneration.
The noblest tree in the Bible is the cedar of Lebanon which has branches that spread out from the trunk in level floors, one above the other. It was this tree which was used in the building of Solomon’s temple. Orderly in its arrangement, with one branch above another, suggesting an understanding which rises to the highest things, which sees the true relation between natural things and spiritual things, and supremely the relation of all things to the Lord.
How well do the plants teach us about the spiritual things in our life !!