Saturday, July 11, 2020

The Wisdom of Trees: Finding Perspective in the Forest

I grew up on the edge of a Eucalyptus forest. When our community had cut down this giant invasive species from Australia, another indigenous forest sprang up quickly and beautifully in its place. It was like the Garden of Eden. My grandfather, an avid botanist, put brass plaques on the trees inscribed with their Latin names. They are still there today. My first real scar came from exploring in that forest as a young boy. It was a deep gash next to my left shin bone from a burst bottle after a forest fire. I have grown and changed since that day, but the scar remains.
My first call was also in a forest, this time a Redwood forest across the Golden Gate Bridge. The year was 1990 and I was 18. I know that God met me and marked me that day in Muir Woods, calling me to live and preach his gospel in California. So much has changed since that day, thirty years ago, but the call remains, much like the scar.    
Because of this, I view my return to Redwood forests like a pilgrimage. Much like one might visit the church where they had been baptized or married to re-affirm their vows, I visit the Redwood forests, carrying more scars and hopefully more wisdom, longing to re-affirm my vows and make sure of my calling. As John Muir, the father of national parks himself once said, "To walk in a Redwood forest is to enter natures' cathedral." 
And God began to speak to me about the wisdom of trees. 

These trees are evergreen because they have a root system. 
'Blessed are those whose delight is in the law of the Lord and who meditate upon it day and night, they are like a tree planted by streams of  water, whose leaf does not wither....'  (Ps 1:2)
These trees are evergreen because their root system has found a water source. This means they can  go for months without rain. Similarly, God is able to nourish us through His Word in dry seasons, but it will require more than skimming through the latest sermon podcast.  When I meditate on His word I am filling my mind with God's noble themes and promises. When I delight I am pressing them down to the deepest parts of my soul until my soul finds joy and rest. The Word of God is sufficient to communicate the presence of God to the people of God, nourishing them like a stream to a dry tree. 
These trees have endured because they understand seasons.
                    "Whose leaf does not wither and who bring out their fruit in due season." (Psalm 1:3) 
Note that being Evergreen does not deny that some seasons are more fruitful than others.
Even Evergreens bring out their fruit in season. I do not only fret because I fear I may die in a drought. I fret because some seasons are less fruitful than others. Like this season of pandemic and protest and scattering. The fruit is less visible. Trees do not fret over the carpet of leaves that God spreads on the winter floor. Trees know that health in winter looks different to health in spring. Even Evergreens, whose leaves do not wither in winter, do not fret when there is no fruit in winter. Some seasons, success means leaves not fruit. Trees know this. And we humans must learn from them.

 These trees have not broken because they have leaned.

 It is one thing to be rooted. It is another to be brittle. For these statuesque trees to have         
 stood upright for millennia, they will have swayed and stooped in the wind, like sailors  
 finding their sea legs after a voyage. Trees offer a new definition of strength beyond rigidity. 
 They are rooted, yet somehow, flexible. If I buckle before the winds of cultural pressure, perhaps I am not rooted enough? But if I am too stubborn to bend, to humbly listen, to willingly learn, to lean, I have a fragile strength that will shatter in time. 

In fact, I believe God is calling us to lean in unpredictable ways as the wind of His Spirit blows. 
People who view us through a purely political lens may be confused. 

"You're telling people they can sing from behind their masks? You must be conservative!"

"You're speaking against racism? You must be liberal!"

"You're calling people to honor law enforcement? You must be Republican!"

"You're telling people they must wear masks? You must be Democrat!" 

"No, we are just being like trees, planted in God's Word, leaning as God blows by His Sprit."

Rooted yet flexible. 

Faithful, yet unpredictable. 

With the wisdom of trees.