The other day I was heading to meet with some people in Warrington. I looked to my left out of the passenger side window and was greeted by the most amazing sight. There on a grassy verge in front of what looked like council properties was a tree stump, probably about four feet high. Dangling from this tree stump were a collection of shoes and trainers and attached to the stump was a sign that read “tree of lost soles” That’s soles “S”, “O”, “L”, “E”, “S” not souls “S”, “O”, “U”, “L”, “S”. I drove on smiling thinking about this amazing sight and wondering what on earth it could be about. It lifted my spirits, it filled my soul as I went and shared time with friends before heading to Yorkshire and family and the making of arrangements for my grandad’s funeral.
Now I don’t know if there is anything deeply symbolic in all of this. I know it made me smile and it drew me out of myself as I connected with others in telling the tale. Perhaps “the tree of lost soles” means nothing more than a tree with sole less shoes attached to it. Then again maybe it is a commentary on our modern times and our disposable and soulless lives...maybe, maybe not...It did get me thinking though...first of all about symbols and then about trees.
Symbols can reveal deep and meaningful truth, they have the capacity to reach beyond the limits of the written and or spoken word. Joesph Campbell taught that certain images and pictures invite the eye not to merely rush along but to rest a while and dwell within the revelation that can be found by looking deeply into them. This certainly happened as I passed the “Tree of Lost Soles” I can only have caught a quick glimpse of it and yet I took in every detail. Signs and symbols allow us to get caught up in them and as a result they enable us to see the things in life we would normally miss in our day to day rushing and pushing and pulling. Signs and symbols have the capacity to pull us beyond ourselves to our better selves, they help us engage religiously with the world, as they re-bind us back to life.
The "Transforming Arms into Tools" project was set up by Bishop Dom Dinis Sengulane in 1995 and is supported by Christian Aid. During Mzmabique’s civil war, which lasted from 1976 until 1992, millions of weapons poured into the country and many still remain there to this day. The project is an attempt to create something out the devastation of the civil war as well as deal with the present danger of the weapons hidden all over the land. It encourages Mozambicans to hand over these weapons for decommissioning. As an incentive they are exchanged for ploughs, bicycles and sewing machines etc. “The tree of life” sculpture and other works of art are created from the decommissioned weapons; the "Tree of Life" is something beautiful that has been created from tools of violence and destruction; it is a powerful symbol.
The trees at this time of year always fascinate me. There is something very beautiful about the trees in winter. These lifeless stick like sculptures stretching out from the hard frozen ground are stripped right down to the bone. They look vulnerable and exposed, but they are not. By next spring they will once again be bursting into life. They look like lost souls, but this is an illusion for they will soon find life once again.
The May Pole is symbolic of such trees, stripped of their leaves to characterize their winter state. On May Day in an act of rebirth and everlasting life, they are re-clothed with decorative bands and flowers, giving us the opportunity to celebrate life’s re-creation. Again this seemingly symbolises the tree of life; it is a symbol of re-birth and renewal; it is a sign post to the path of enlightenment; it is a place where lost souls and even lost soles can come together and once again be found.
I live in hope though, not necessarily optimism but definitely hope. I see signs and symbols of hope all around me. I see them on the sides of the road in Warrington and other places too. I see them in the spring that will soon come to clear away winter when the tree of life will once again be in bloom. I see it in the eyes of people as they come to life, in many and varied ways, from seeming devastation.
We can all return to the tree of life, the tree of renewal, the tree of re-birth and follow the path of enlightenment. For all soles and souls are welcome, even those that have been discarded.
I pay homage to “Trees of Lost Soles” the world over and “The Trees of Life” universal.
May they lead us home, may they lead us to life.