October 2010

Tree of Life

            I confess that I am not very good at being able to identify trees (I know a tree when I see one, but I usually can’t name it).  There are some lovely trees in our yard at home.  I enjoy them for their cool shade in the summer, for the beauty of their leaves as they take on fall colors, for their stark strong lines through the cold winter, and for fresh green sprigs in spring, some with flowers on them.  Our church is also blessed with a variety of lovely trees including some that flower.

            I imagine trees have stood as expressions of life since the beginning of human consciousness.  They have always provided experiences of shelter and beauty.  They have also provided fuel for fire, material for construction, even food for the table.  Trees have nourished body and soul.

            The Bible is filled with trees.  Yes, there are deserts and wildernesses, but there are also the great cedars of Lebanon as well as oak, pine, aspen, acacia, cypress, ebony, poplar, and willow trees.  There are fruit bearing trees: apple, date, fig, and olive trees, among others.  All these trees served many purposes, and often as metaphors for spiritual truths.  The Bible begins and ends with images of gardens in which are planted trees, and a Tree of Life.  In the beginning, the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden was lost to the human family.  In the end, the redeemed are gathered in the City of God, through which flows the crystal river, by which grows the Tree of Life.  It is this Tree of Life which is the source of all healing and nourishment from God.

            In between these two trees, for Christians, is that “tree” upon which our Redeemer died.  Like the Rod of Aaron it is a tree that dies and blossoms.  It is the Rod of Jesse, the lineage of David which died and rose again in Jesus.  It is the cross of Good Friday that blooms with lilies on Easter.  The Tree of Life is that gift from God that brings new life out of death.

            At our church’s Anniversary party, we gathered to “Celebrate the Past” (reaching back 145 years in this building).  But we also gathered to “Create the Future”.  With three decades now behind us as the United Church of Spring Valley, we look now to the coming decade with all its challenges and opportunities.  Over the coming weeks and months, we will be sharing and discussing those ideas, wishes, and concerns about which we are passionate.  We have begun that sharing by inviting everyone to write the things they feel passionate about on a paper leaf and hang it on the tree in the Mendum Room parlor.  A live Dogwood tree was donated for this purpose for the party.  It has now been planted in front of the church and we await the spring to see it bloom.  In the meantime, another tree has taken its place inside, where our leaves can continue to accumulate.  Anytime you are here in the building, stop to read the leaves that are hanging on it, and add more leaves to it.  (You may also write your thoughts to us and we’ll make a leaf for you.)  We only ask that you sign your name to the leaf so that we can explore together how to bring your leaf to fruition.  At the end of October we will gather as a congregation in an “Open Space” process to envision our future, blooming with these passions.  This will be like a church retreat, but held here in our own building rather than at Warwick.  But don’t let the word “retreat” take root in your mind; think of this as an “advance”.  We are moving forward!

            Trees are extraordinary expressions of life.  Some are small; some are huge.  Some are young; some are ancient.  They bridge the firmaments.  They send their roots down into the earth, and their branches up into the heavens.  Each winter they seem to die; each spring they bear new life.  They are home to countless creatures.  Just so, we believe that a church can go through seasons of retreat and seasons of renewal.  Our church has deep roots in history and in faith.  Our church has great branches that reach out with welcoming shelter and nourishment for others.  The life of God’s Spirit flows in this tree: roots, trunk, and limbs.  It is the Spirit of God that enables us to bear fruit.

            You are a part of this tree.  Our tree needs every root, every branch, every twig, every leaf if we are to be the Tree of Life that God wants us to be for this new decade.