Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Tree God Knows

Here in Muskoka winter I muse about trees outside our window.I can look at them many ways: they can be beautiful and artistic as they glitter in the sunlight. Deciduous trees can look lonely and stark without their leaves in barren brown-ness. Evergreens stand out so much more in the winter, their plenteous boughs preserving the essence of Christmas trees throughout the bleakness of winter months. As I drive up the highway I notice trees in winter in ways I often don't in summer. The cold and starkness of life highlight the strength and individual outlines of trees. Summer shows their composite foliage; autumn overwhelms with brilliant contrasts of colours, but the story then is more of the leaves than the trees. So winter is a time to see the true outline of trees, their basic shape and the beauty or not thereof.

Such is true of all of us. It takes the hard seasons to show what we are made of, whether our lives are truly in balance and we have what it takes to withstand the tests and trials of time. That balance comes from strong and deep roots, well proportioned trunks and gracefully arranged branches.

Trees abound as metaphors for personhood throughout literature and scripture. Psalm 1 reminds us that the righteous person is "like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season, and whose leaf does not wither." (v. 2b.) Trees appear in our dreams and we instinctively know what they mean. We can see a painting of a tree and identify with it. A friend once wrote a poem about me as a bonsai, an intricately formed miniature tree, recognizing how life had stunted my growth in certain ways, yet kept the form and grace. That was how she saw me. God spoke to me in a different way using the tree image just a year ago.

Of course He knew that I love to think of myself as a tree, that I long to be an oak of righteousness. He has called me one for many years. But one day He wanted to show me something more specific. I was sitting prayerfully with my trained spiritual "friend" and she asked me to ask God to give me a picture in my mind of how He saw me at that time. Instantly I saw a childish drawing of a tree. The trunk was thick and strong, but not well proportioned. It was far too wide for the height of the tree. The leaves were bright green, obviously on bushy branches, but no fruit or lovely graceful branches were visible. It was like a green lollipop atop a huge brown stick. Alive, strong, very strong, but not beautiful, graceful, appropriate or able to grow up well. It was a picture of me: strong but defensive, out of proportion, needing pruning, deeper roots, and greater upward and outward growth in the branches, not the trunk.

Then she asked me to ask God to show me what He wanted to do with me. Again I instantly saw the tree in the picture moving. The roots began stretching deeper and wider, the branches extended gracefully out in many directions, and the trunk grew taller, lost many layers of defensive bark. The whole tree became well proportioned. In this past year that kind of growth has been taking place. I have often thought of those pictures, and been grateful for their dynamic and multi-faceted, intuitive truth. The growth continues, and always will. And many times, like today, I am reminded of the need for the storms and stress in my life to foster that growth. Just on a day when I was so frustrated with the continuing storms I read this poem:

The wind that blows can never kill the tree God plants;
It bloweth east, it bloweth west,the tender leaves have little rest,
But any wind that blows is best.
The tree that God plants strikes deeper root, grows higher still,
Spreads greater boughs, for God's good will meets all its wants.

There is no storm hath power to blast the tree God knows;
No thunderbolt, nor hurricane;
When they are spent, it doth remain,
The tree God knows,through every tempest standeth fast,
And from its first day to its last still fairer grows.

quoted in Streams in the Desert


Belinda said...

Dear Meg,
Thank you for this beautiful Tree Story. I long for my roots to grow deeper and deeper too. And it really helps to weather a storm when you have the perspective that it is making you stronger and sturdier, or doing some pruning.

Susan once gave me a beautiful poem by Amy Carmichael called, "The Tree." Have you read it? I think it starts:

The mountain tree if it would see
The far horizon and the stars
Must never seek a sheltered place...

Marilyn said...

Thank you for this. It was beautiful to read, from start to finish and connected with some thoughts I've been having about the winter of life and what will be seen. Your sentence about noticing trees in winter in ways you don't in summer really struck a chord.