The Tree of Life
As far back as I can remember, I have always had a thing for trees. I feel a connection with trees, as though we are related, cousins on our Mother’s (Earth’s) side. Two trees in particular played an important role in my life, and although neither one of them remains standing, they both stand strong, tall, and majestic in my memory.
The first tree is an elm, which was part of a small park, “Elm Circle,” at the end of my childhood street, Willow Drive. I was an outdoor child in the days when even my overprotective mother would let me play outside all day long, and only return home for meals. My friend Bobby and I would say to each other, “Elm Circle, as fast as lightening!” and race each other on our bicycles to my Tree. When I got to be about eight or nine, I most often rode my bicycle to Elm Circle by myself. There I would hoist my long, skinny girl-almost-woman body up into the branches of “My tree.” I would sit in my leafy perch, pouring out the contents of my young soul to my Tree: my struggles at home or with classmates, my joys and triumphs. From my perch I could see high above the houses in my suburban neighborhood, to the tall buildings of the city beyond, appropriately named “Providence.”
It was not until my early thirties, when I participated in a three-year spirituality program, that I came to realize that my Tree was one of my earliest experiences of God. For that program we had to do a life-line, recalling our experiences of the Divine beginning in our childhood years. It was one of the instructors for the course, who also was my spiritual director at that time, who helped me to see that my Tree was one of my earliest images of God. Since then I have called it my God Tree. It had been struck by lightening in a storm, and so was tilted at a severe angle.
I organized a team of children who every day would go to my Tree with me, and lean against it, trying to push it back into proper alignment! In retrospect I like the fact that my Tree was wounded, and bent toward the earth, making its branches lower and accessible to me as a child. All of my heart’s aches and longings were poured out in that tree. When the winds blew I felt held by its branches, rocked through the storms of my life. It was a shock to me when, in mid-life, I visited Elm Circle to discover that my Tree was no longer there. But it is eternally with me, part of me.
The second Tree is the last one that lined the drive at Fort Adams State Park in Newport, Rhode Island, which leads to the Eisenhower House, the President’s former summer home. I only discovered this Tree eleven years ago, when I met my husband, and we went on our first bicycle ride together. We still ride the same seventeen-mile route almost every day, spring through fall. Our Tree is the place we would stop and rest. When we were married eight years ago, that Tree was our witness. In fact, my introverted husband’s desire was to have our wedding consist of me, him and our Tree. Ultimately, we also had some family and close friends stand with us under our Tree that day.
Three years ago, I noticed that our Tree had been struck by lightening, or infected with some kind of disease. Again, I was deeply shocked when we returned from my sabbatical in Turkey and Greece that summer, went on our bicycle ride, and found that our Tree no longer stood at the end of the drive. I deeply grieved its loss. But my husband consoled me: “It is as though our Tree was just for us. No one will ever be able to get married under that Tree again.” Again, that Tree is eternally with me, part of me.
On all of my travels, while some people are drawn to museums or cathedrals, I am drawn to Trees. Every place we have visited, I have felt deeply connected to a certain Tree, and chronicled my trips with photographs of my Tree companions. My favorite Trees are Beech Trees, whose huge majestic trunks and branches remind me so much of the human form, their branches like limbs entwined in an intimate dance.
This morning I was reading the book of Genesis in the Hebrew Bible, preparing for my Wednesday morning bible study. In the Story of Creation in Genesis 2, it speaks of the Tree of Life, and also of the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil, or what the footnotes call the Tree of Wisdom. To my surprise the footnotes also say that in biblical times Trees were considered the feminine aspect of the Divine!!! How appropriate! In the New Testament, the Cross is said to be the Tree of Life, transforming death into eternal Life!
Finally, in the last book of the New Testament, Revelation, it speaks of the Tree of Life, whose leaves bring the healing of the nations. People who know me know that the necklace I wear most often is in fact of the Tree of Life.
So, I guess my thing for Trees is not so weird after all.
How about you? If you were to do a life-line, where in your life have you experienced God’s presence? My daughter always had a thing for rocks, another image for God. One of my sisters experiences God’s presence in the Ocean. The mountains. The desert. The forest. The Sunlight. In many and various ways the Divine speaks to us.
Today may you see God in all you encounter,
and may you reflect God to all you encounter.
Pastor Linda Forsberg, Copyright September 16, 2014
Photos: A volcanic park in Utah; Koa tree behind Iolani Palace, Honolulu; Koa tree, World Botanical Gardens, Hilo, Hawaii; Georgia O’Keefe’s most frequently painted tree, Ghost Ranch, Abiqui, New Mexico; tree trench in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming; our wedding under our Tree, Fort Adams State Park, Newport, Rhode Island; a road stop, Greece; a Beech Tree, Broadway, Newport, Rhode Island; Cross at Christ in the Desert Benedictine Monastery, Abiquiu, New Mexico; cottonwood tree, White Sands, New Mexico