He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers. Psalms 1:3
I’m reading a book about the life history of trees in preparation for leading a tree walk in March. Throughout geologic time, the form of woody plants has evolved independently and separately, numerous times, suggesting great advantages to developing a strong ligneous network of fibers. These fibers draw resources from the ground below, and convey food to store there from the sun above.
What might trees have to teach us in this quiet season of Lent? Trees lay up extra ligneous material in response to environmental conditions and stresses–you can see this both below and above branch joints – think of the wind-blown trees of coastal areas in their permanent arcs. We, too, develop our callouses – or our muscle – in resilient response to life’s challenges and injuries; we use our life experiences to strengthen us against the winds of time and circumstance. I wonder where I might be gathering or needing extra support?
And trees go both deep and wide. They depend upon root systems anchored in soils of different qualities and types. We have also learned, rather recently, about the enormous importance to these big creatures of specific fungal associations (mycorrhizae) in the soil. We who live large on this earth do well to pay attention to the soils in which we are attempting to grow and thrive, to the very ground of our being, and all the attendant complex life forms that sustain it and us.
Finally, trees offer their fruits for the sustenance of others, who depend in turn upon them. Whole ecosystems live in great trees such as the giant sequoias of the west coast, or even our own white oaks (oaks support over 500 species of Lepidoptera alone) . We, too, have abundant gifts to offer the world. Are we reaching for the sun and offering them to others?
Plant a tree. Be a tree for someone, offering your shade or fruits. Draw strength from the Ground of our Being during Lent, as we await the return of new life, and a new flowering in the world.
Note: One of the most ancient trees, the gingko, found first in the fossil record around 260 million years ago, can be found growing in the narrow bed between our sanctuary and the AFL-CIO building, with beautiful fan-shaped leaves that develop a sunny gold color in the fall.