What trees teach us about LIFE…

tree-of-life-prophetic-painting-mindi-oaten-art-colors-leaves-healing-of-the-nations_grandeFor the past six weeks, I have been journeying with a group in Cape Town, reflecting on the messages of discipleship, hidden in the trees of the bible.  The bible is bookended with stories about trees.  In the beginning in the book of Genesis, there are two trees–The Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good & Evil.  The Tree of Life reappears in awe-inspiring imagery at the end of the bible in the Book of Revelation.

Psalm 1:3 names that “They shall be like trees planted by streams of water, that bear fruit in their right season, their leaves do not wither, and in all that they do, they prosper.”  The “they” in the psalm is the people of God.  They were likened to trees and so we can know that trees hold significant value and have much to teach us.  The word tree appears in the bible 288 times and there is thought to be 37 different types of trees mentioned.  What is it then about trees?

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Peter Wohlleben, in his book, “The Hidden Life of Trees,” shares amazingly beautiful stories about his experience with trees.  Wohlleben is a forester in Germany and he names that the trees that grow in the wild, have ways of creating their own ecosystem, they communicate with one another and with other wildlife, and their interconnected nature speaks to their majestic symbolism.  Before there was a term “World Wide Web,” there was a term “Wood Wide Web,” coined by a man named Dr. Simrad.  This term was meant to describe the ways in which trees elicit a communication network that is alive in the forests.

Wohlleben shares that the Birch trees have a way of equalizing the sugars in their leaves through the root systems they share underneath the ground.  The taller trees that have better access to the photosynthesis process, feed the shorter trees.  They have a way for caring for one another that is natural to their genetic makeup.  He tells a story of a fallen tree that demonstrated green growth due to the roots of the other trees feeding it.  They literally held the tree in life.  There are so many amazing stories in this book, I encourage you to read it to learn more about the Beautiful in the life of Trees.

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I have loved trees as long as I can remember, but the significance of them in my spiritual journey grew in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  I served during that time as a Disaster Response Trainer, training teams to help with the clean up and recovery efforts after the storm tore threw the Gulf Coast region of the US.  I was a student at the time and one of my research projects was the Pastoral Implications of Disaster.  A group of us from Duke traveled to Mississippi to lead a Pastoral Care conference for the clergy in Mississippi.

As we drove down the Gulf Coast highway, I was mesmerized by a row of Live Oaks that survived the storm.  I call these trees, the grandfathers.  Entire mansions were swept out to sea, but the grandfathers survived.  As my hands touched their bark, and my eyes lingered over their limbs, I could sense within them strength.  This is the story of the trees, their systems of being together, create within them the capacity to stand.  Certainly there were many trees that did not make it, but those that did…they are hauntingly beautiful in their weathering and in their strength.

We are like trees in our need to abide.  John 15: 1-7 has this to say about the importance of abiding:
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“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you.  Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.  Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.  If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

As we approach the season of Lent, I encourage you to find a tree that you can befriend.  Allow it to speak to you in a spiritual way, reminding you of our need to be strengthened.  What might need pruning in your life of faith, in order that you might be able to grow in strength?  Give consideration to your Lenten disciplines, for Life is a beautiful gift and we should desire to live it in strength, beauty, and with faithfulness that bears fruit.

As Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, he would have been praying in an Olive grove, for the word Gethsemane means, Olive Press.

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Knowing what that word means has changed my image of Jesus and that prayer.  To know that he was praying as if he were being pressed in on every side, makes me want to be closer with him in that prayer.  Knowing that his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane cost him drops of blood, reminds me that our lives are meant to be faithful in one way–in our love for God and all of God’s creation, even at the cost of drops of our blood.  May the Spirit of God take deeper roots within you through out your forty days of Lent.

As always, I am thankful to be…

With you on the journey,                                            audio for Hidden in the trees bible study

Michelle                                                                                      www.cmm.org.za/bible-study/

***To support my ministry in South Africa, tax deductible donations can be received through the United Methodist online giving system, the Advance.  Look for the support Michelle’s ministry tab on the homepage of my blog.  Thanks for your love and prayers!

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