In every major religious tradition, trees are used to symbolize strength, hope, fruitfulness, longevity of life, and steadfastness through the many seasons of life. Genesis tells us, “And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.” Through several generations, trees provide us with shade and nuts or fruit, nurturing us with their bounty and beauty. They are living, growing things that can most often withstand the harshness of storms and periods of drought that destroy other plants. And even after they are cut down, their wood can be transformed into shelter, furniture, art and even the paper on which this article is printed.
I have long loved trees and find myself pondering the lessons they offer as I observe them during the changing seasons of the year. In this pre-spring season of rain, I marvel at how the trees along the banks of the racing rivers manage to hold on and survive even as the soil that holds them is washed away downstream. I know from reading and research that the trees withstand this treacherous season by not only clinging to the soil that remains, but by being held up by the trees higher up on the bank to which it’s twisted and entwined roots cling.
In the summer when storms and strong winds threaten to blow them down, most survive by this same deep clinging to soil and surrounding trees. In summer, those same trees will draw on the water and nutrients in both the soil and the air to grow stronger and bear leaves for shade, fruit for our sustenance, or seed for future generations. In fall, they wisely surrender their bounty so they may conserve their energy for the long months of winter ahead.
My reflections on the beauty, fruitfulness, and tenacity of the trees I see along the banks of the local rivers invite me to look at how my own life compares to these majestic trees. In what ways do I nurture and strengthen my own life so that I may serve as shelter and sustenance for others? From where do I draw my strength so that I might grow strong and tall? To whom do I stretch my roots so that I might withstand the raging rivers and windy storms of my own life?
As people of faith, we know that both sustenance and survival come through the deepening and strengthening of our relationship with God and others. Stretching and entwining our roots with the wisdom, spirit, and strength of God allows us the strength we need to hold on when illness, suffering, and even death threaten to wash us away. Reaching out to others and collaborating with them in living the gospel message, enables us to provide shelter to those who need a place of peace or refuge, and feed those who hunger for justice, mercy and compassion. Psalm 1:3 reminds us that person who lives by the wisdom of God is blessed “like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that (s)he does, (s)he prospers.”
Leviticus 26:4 — “Then I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its increase, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit.”