The Harp Tree

Some people dream in technicolor and are able to recount their dream in full detail. Some remember portions of a dream to share. And then there are people like me who rarely remember even the smallest fragment of a dream, never mind descriptive details. I wonder if that’s because I dream while awake, if my imagination is so exhausted by the time I get into bed that it mercifully allows me to slip into a deep and seemingly dreamless sleep.

If I recall anything at all, it seems to happen in the twilight hours of dawn, you know, that in-between time when you’re just awakening from a night’s sleep but are not yet fully alert. That’s the time of day when I sense most clearly the palpable presence of the Holy. I’ve learned to pay particular attention to what I see, hear, feel.

One morning last week, I awoke to the image of a massive poplar tree. The poplar was bowed down from the weight of thousands of harps hanging on its branches. I was standing under the tree, looking up into it. That’s the fragment. 

Just that week I had been praying Psalm 137, that poignant song of separation that begins,  

“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat and wept, remembering Zion;
On the poplars that grew there, we hung up our harps…
O, how could we ever sing God’s song in a foreign land?

(Psalm 137: 1, 4)

Perhaps when praying the psalms, you share my practice of relating the psalmist’s words from hundreds of years ago to what is unfolding in your life, our world, at this moment. In this song from the Babylonian captivity, we hear the contemporary ache of refugees driven from home by war, conflict, famine, threats against life, or natural disasters. We hear the terror of displaced families forced to flee to places that may be safe but that hold constant reminders that home is not where they now find themselves. We hear the utter weariness of those who live in chronic, unrelenting pain. We hear the unspoken anguish of people who have been struck mute by grief, struggling to navigate a foreign landscape in the absence of their beloved.

When there simply are no words, when the notes die in our throats, may we remember that the Holy One never ceases singing for us. May we remember that our longing to find meaning in the place of exquisite pain and fragile dreams has not gone unnoticed. May we remember that the communion of all the holy ones is here for us. Carrying us. Standing with us under the harp tree. Holding us in tenderness and prayer.

When our songs have been struck silent and our harps abandoned and stilled, others are singing when we cannot. By the grace of the Holy One, may our voices ultimately be restored and find their way back to us so that some day we can finally sing a new song. Whether soon or late, we trust that it may be so!

Sit in stillness with the Holy One.
You may want to place before you an image of our world’s suffering or an image of someone you love who has been lost to you.
Simply hold that image in love and compassion.
Thank the Holy One for constantly companioning you and all who are in pain of any kind.
If you’re able, sing. Play a piece of soothing music. Or sit in silence.

– Chris Koellhoffer, IHMMining the Now, February 11, 2024