"Like a Tree"
As I write this month’s article, wildfires are raging in Northern and Central California, threatening the lives and homes of those around them. In addition to the concerns for the safety of individuals, people have been worried about the Redwood trees in Big Basin Redwoods State Park, the oldest state park in California. Hundreds of feet tall, some of the trees there are over 2000 years old, including one known as “Mother of the Forest.” But yesterday, an Associated Press reporter and photographer hiked into Big Basin and returned with excellent news: the trees, including Mother of the Forest, have survived. Laura McLendon, director of a conservation group, was thrilled but not surprised, at this good news. Redwood forests are equipped to survive fires, she said, and many show the scars of previous blazes. They also contain buds just under their bark that are released when it burns, creating opportunities for new growth. And if parts of the tree succumb, they fall to the floor of the forest and feed the other trees. “The forest is not gone,” she said. “It will regrow.”
As I read about the redwoods, I couldn’t help but think about the church in this strange and unprecedented time. Like those towering trees, the church is over 2000 years old. Like them, the church has faced challenges and bears the scars of what it has survived: persecution, war, schism, and more. Just as redwoods holds buds under its bark, the church holds within itself the buds of new growth, as green, new shoots emerge out of solid foundations—new ways of “being the church” with innovative worship, music, and missions. And even if one “branch” of the church dies, it can nurture the other “branches” through its legacy and spirit.
In the Hebrew Bible, the imagery of trees is used to illustrate the life of faith. Psalm 1 says that those who delight in the law of the Lord are “like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither.” The prophet Jeremiah also used the image of a tree to call the Israelites back to faithful worship of God:
Blessed are those who trust in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
They shall be like a tree planted by water,
sending out its roots by the stream.
It shall not fear when heat comes,
and its leaves shall stay green;
in the year of drought it is not anxious,
and it does not cease to bear fruit.
I find great comfort in these words as we continue to make our way through 2020. Both literally and figuratively, the “heat” has come, testing us in ways we did not anticipate. We are missing so many of the ways we nourish our spirits, it feels as though we are, in some ways, in a year of “drought.” But Jeremiah reminds us that, like a tree planted by water, we are secure even in the midst of challenging times. Our faith and trust in God root us; they help us tap into the streams of life that flow around and within us.
May these images of trees encourage us all in the days and months ahead. Like the trees, we know fires and droughts will come. But they, and we who trust in God, hold within us all we need to withstand trying times and continue to grow. May it be so. Amen.
Pastor Mary Sue Brookshire