Psalm 1:1-3 (paraphrased)
Happy are those
who … delight in the ways of the Lord,
and on God’s word they meditate day and night.
3 They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
I brought some things to look at during our service today.
Tree of Life Quilt (Made by NW Quilters with fabric donated by our community, as a symbol of the abundant life of this “tree” for the community)
African Folk Painting
Tree of Life Necklace from Ireland, a Celtic symbol of the connectedness of life.
A Stick in the Mud – Willow stick just pushed into the soil and Voila!
Book: The Hidden Life of Trees: What they feel and how they communicate, by Peter
I love the magical story of The Lord of the Rings! Some of the characters are delightful, some are scary, many are brave, some are foolish. Among my favorites are the Ents. Do you remember them? They lived in the forest near Isengard. They are tree-like giants -14 feet tall! Their skin is like bark, their arms like branching limbs, they talk very slowly and they are very strong – enough to crush rock and toss boulders. Their job is to shepherd the trees, to protect the forest from enemies. They do not die of old age. Rather, older Ents often become ‘treeish’, settling down in one place and growing roots and leaves.
I just discovered some new science which gives credence to the sentience of trees. One of the things I brought today is a book called, The Hidden Life of Trees: What they feel and how they communicate, by Peter Wohlleben. What science now knows is that trees communicate with each other. Some of their sounds, while too high-pitched for human hearing, has been measured by instruments. Some trees register pain. There are Mother trees, or Grandmother trees who nurture the young, passing along nutrients, giving extra to those in more shade, since her upper reaches have so much sun to drink in. When a tree starts to die, it seems to know it. On its way out it begins to shovel out carbon – its own nutrients – to linked trees beneath it. It is passing along whatever it can to the next generation.
Trees also have little hair-like filaments on their roots. They send chemical signals, and information to other trees through these tender fibers. A healthy tree that receives information on a neighboring tree in need will funnel its resources to that tree in order to help keep it alive. What scientists are discovering is that trees survive not through competition, but through cooperation, helping each other in times of need, alerting one another to danger, and sometimes even sacrificing themselves for the benefit of the community at large.
In the Native American tradition, the tree under which a baby is born becomes his or her “double,” sort of a soul mate. Whenever the tree’s leaves are renewed in the spring, the life of the person born there is also renewed. If the individual at some point in his or her life feels the need for renewed strength and purpose, that person can make a pilgrimage back to the birth spot and there perform a ceremony to renew his or her strength.
Abraham bought a Oak-forested place in which to bury his wife Sarah, and those who would follow her in death. He chose a place held by trees. When he dug his first well, at Beer-Sheba he marked it by planting a Tamarisk tree. A tree, planted by streams of water, which yields fruit in its season.
Scientists have also learned that trees learn. How they learn and where they store the knowledge is still a mystery, but it is observable to scientists. Perhaps they do hold memories, the memories of what has happened around them. I found myself wondering about the stories the ancient Bristlecones at Cedar Breaks could tell, if I could hear them.
Have you ever been in the woods and felt the presence of the trees? L. Greer Price tells a story about a close encounter with a forest (p. 15).
Trees have been recognized as a source of life since the beginning of Creation. There were two special trees God planted in the middle of the Garden of Eden. The Tree of Life was one of them. And it shows up again in the end of the book of Revelation: 22:1-2 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. The tree of life takes care of the food, water and healing needs of all the nations!
The Psalmist says that we, too, are like trees. When we are nourished by God’s ways, we have all we need to be productive, shading, beautiful and healing. Are our leaves, too, for the healing of the nations? It is not much of a stretch to say it is so.
I find my imagination drifts to this old house of worship. It is like a mother tree – not quite a grandmother tree like other sanctuaries in the world, as we are a young sapling of a place. Yet, a mother, nourishing her young under these great timbers, feeding us from the light which comes through her colorful windows. Trees, molded to make us comfortable are the pews upon which we sit.
Jesus worked with trees his whole life as a carpenter. I wonder what he could tell us of their life, their value. Just this one lifeless willow twig was stuck in a jar of mud and it is sprouting and reaching up to become a tree! Trees, even twigs, are full of life – even when they don’t look like it!
Trees are central to Jesus’ story, too. In the end, they “hung Jesus on a tree” – Luke, Peter and Paul all refer to Jesus’ death with this phrase. “Hung him on a tree.” After what scientists are discovering about the life of trees, maybe the tree also gave its life for the one who hung there. It ended up being a tree of life. What death happened there was not final, but sprung forth into life on Easter morning. Like the Willow twig, what looked like death was not final. The God-life of Jesus could not be so easily destroyed.
The symbol of the tree of life reminds us of the resurrection cycle – especially the deciduous trees which shade us and give us fruit in summer, turn blazing colors in fall, become bare and death-like in winter, and burst with blossoms in spring. So, too, our lives. We go through the summer, fall, winter and springs of life.
In the end, the Tree of Life is a symbol for God. God is like the Tree of Life, giving breath, light, water and soul to creation, continuing to stand by the water, piping it to us so that we can flourish. And God’s trees produce healing, fruit, blessing for all. That is what I love about this African art piece. It shows how this one tree gives the whole village food, shade, work, companionship and everything they need to survive. Not only did God’s Child hang on a tree, but God’s own self was the tree of life which held him. From what we know of trees, of course, God, the tree of life, couldn’t let him stay dead.
The good news is that we, too, are children of God and God will take care of us, with all the resources at hand for the Creator of the Universe, the Creator of life.