At the beginning of the Easter season I was thinking a lot of Aspen trees and how their root groves can survive forest fires and spring forth new life. Now, after the Seventh Sunday of Easter has past, I am on to Redwoods. My friend just got back from travel on the West Coast. She showed me pictures of the Redwoods trees, tall and majestic, clearly God’s good creation.
Nature has healing power, and it is important for us as humans to get outside and reconnect, to be humbled by the wisdom in the trees. We are lucky to have public land in our country, many state parks that preserve trees like the Redwoods. The Redwood species contains the largest and tallest trees in the world. They can live to an age of one thousand years, reaching over 300 feet tall and over 50 feet in diameter. It is hard to stand at the foot of a Redwood without being moved to awe and silence, and the poem below articulates so beautifully:
Joseph B. Strauss
Here, sown by the Creator’s hand.
In serried ranks, the Redwoods stand:
No other clime is honored so,
No other lands their glory know.
The greatest of Earth’s living forms,
Tall conquerors that laugh at storms;
Their challenge still unanswered rings,
Through fifty centuries of kings.
The nations that with them were young,
Rich empires, with their forts far-flung,
Lie buried now-their splendor gone:
But these proud monarchs still live on.
So shall they live, when ends our days,
When our crude citadels decay;
For brief the years allotted man,
But infinite perennials’ span.
This is their temple, vaulted high,
And here, we pause with reverent eye,
With silent tongue and awestruck soul;
For here we sense life’s proper goal:
To be like these, straight, true and fine,
to make our world like theirs, a shrine;
Sink down, Oh, traveler, on your knees,
God stands before you in these trees.
In the second chapter of Genesis when God creates trees we read, “And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Trees were created to give us beauty and food. They offer us life as well as knowledge of good and evil. It is clear from the beginning of time, trees are powerful creatures to be treated with a level of reverence, appreciation and curiosity.
Maybe it is their age, or maybe their size that dwarfs us into remembering God. The power of trees manifests itself in our most epic of tales. Talking trees show up in folklore around the world. J.R.R. Tolkien created Ents in The Lord of the Rings series, named after the Anglo-Saxon word for giant. Ents are a patient, deliberate and cautious race that closely resembled trees. Like trees, Ents live long but are mortal, and get angry when humans cut down large numbers of trees. They are ancient shepherds of the forest and allies of all free people.
J.K. Rowling wrote personified trees into the Harry Potter epic tale most notable in The Whomping Willow. The Whomping Willow is a magical species of plant whose limbs function as arms, and disguises a secret passage leading to Hogwarts. Like the Ents, The Whompin Willow can have a mean streak, damaging the Weasley’s Flying Ford Anglia in 1992 and destroying Harry Potter’s broomstick in 2000. It is interesting that both the Ents and The Whomping Willow are protective of trees and judge humans who try to destroy them.
Trees make appearances all over the Bible, our ultimate epic tale. In Chronicles the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord. In Job, trees offer hope as, even when they are cut down, sprout again. Their shoots will not cease. In Daniel 4: 10-12 we read, “The visions of my head as I lay in bed were these: I saw, and behold, a tree in the midst of the earth, and its height was great. The tree grew and became strong, and its top reached to heaven, and it was visible to the end of the whole earth. Its leaves were beautiful and its fruit abundant, and in it was food for all. The beasts of the field found shade under it, and the birds of the heavens lived in its branches, and all flesh was fed from it.”
I am not sure why trees have captured me so much this Easter season. I think, in part, I know that it is good for us as humans to get down on our knees now and again. So few things bring me to my knees these days. Really big, old, wise trees do. They remind me that I am in the presence of God, that they have survived more than I will ever see in my lifetime, and that they are here to stay. So even though there are no Redwoods in New York, I think I will walk among the trees this week and take a suggestion from the poem to “Sink down, Oh, traveler, on your knees/God stands before you in these trees.”