Saturday, December 6, 2014

From My Nature Journal: "Picture a Tree..."

“Picture a tree,” the speaker said. “Picture the tree God made you to be, then picture the tree that you are. I trust they are one and the same.”

Hmmm… I'd never been asked that before. Quickly prone to self-deprecation as I am, it was easy to speedily imagine some spindly little something as representing me: a scrawny, stressed and misshapen trunk; haphazard and broken branches; and leaves that look like they have just been beaten down by a hailstorm or chewed on by tent caterpillars! But I knew this was not accurate. God does not view me so. And even if it were an accurate
portrayal, there’s always the parable of the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree, where that spindly little something is transformed by one’s (in my case, God’s) love, devotion and delight into a thing of absolute beauty.

So I pictured a mighty oak, a worthy specimen to be sure, an image of certain strength and character. There’s even an attractive scripture from the prophet Isaiah, “So they will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD that He may be glorified (Isaiah 61:3).” But somehow I did not feel like an oak. It’s not that I do not seek to be righteous with all my heart, but a depiction as a sturdy oak belies my insecurities, feels ostentatious, or for some
                                                reason at least just did not feel right.

Trees more frequently mentioned in the Bible are the Cedars of Lebanon. They, too, are noted for their strength, but also for their use as gifts from kings to kings, referenced to infer beauty and lavishness as a building material, and even cited for their fragrance. That latter image is a nice one: I have often desired to be found pleasantly fragrant to the Lord, a ‘sweet-smelling sacrifice’ as the scriptures say. But even that title, “CEDARS OF LEBANON” (stated in low, dramatic tones), seemed to denote an exotic quality from which I retire.

What else? I find in the Bible references to numerous fruit trees (date, fig, olive and apple), and not infrequent mention of the ordinary sycamore, always seemingly spoken of in almost pedestrian, unspecial fashion. These are the common trees, widespread. No, I don’t see myself as a fruit or sycamore. Not sure why… Maybe it’s the ridiculousness of the old pseudo-psychological question, “If you were a fruit, what kind would you be?!?”

As I thought of it, the tree I saw in the Bible as most attractive is the one I often find similarly so in my life today: the ordinary conifer pine. It is referenced in scripture as a good building wood, and so it is known today. It is ubiquitously utilitarian, easily worked, just appreciatively and enthusiastically used. I so desire to simply be spiritually used, utilized, employed, made use of. But there are many other things about the conifer that are appealing. It’s an evergreen, giving off a celebration of verdant life even in the bleakest of seasons or moments. It provides constant and consistent shelter for creatures that would take refuge within or beneath its boughs. It’s pleasant to the visual, aural and olfactory senses. It holds up in storms far better than hardwoods -- accommodating forceful winds, or bearing tremendous weights of snow and ice -- bending but usually not breaking. And, not only physically but figuratively, evergreens have long been held as symbols of fertility, of birth, even now associated by implication with the incarnate birth of Jesus Christ, Christmas...
I want to be known as
a mighty evergreen...

But there’s one characteristic I like best: it stands with its brothers. In the untouched natural world, one does not find large pines, or large conifers in general, growing in isolation from each other. They grow in groves. Why? Because of an interesting physical trait: conifers have no taproot, and their entire root systems are quite shallow, so their roots intertwine with those of others and they use each other for support. That’s why landscape-planted ones are commonly seen uprooted in city front yards after windstorms; they’re not meant to be growing alone. They grow in groups, and almost seem in the process to produce a quiet sanctuary as sound is dispersed by the needles, with even a soft footfall beneath. Is it any wonder that primitive humans often considered evergreen groves sacred places? Quiet. Reverent. 
                                         A soft place to lie down. Pleasant to the senses. A hush from the

So that’s my tree, the tree God made me to be and the tree that I am. No mighty oak for me. I want to be known as a mighty evergreen, even if the Charlie Brown variety.

~~RGM, from an earlier nature journal entry,
revised December 5, 2014

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