The day began with an observation that one of my newly purchased apple trees was laying perilously on its side and the decorative ‘hand placed’ bark mulch had slid into oblivion on the lawn area I like to call the wild meadow. I can’t say for certain why I didn’t rush to its aid – but I didn’t. It could have been the cold, as even through my Nordic knit, homespun socks my feet were chilly: or it could have been something else. Either way, it languished all day. I consider if other people are so careless (borderline abusive) of their plants? perhaps I am beyond hope! I recognise in myself my ability to procrastinate and begin to analyse why I want to plant trees in the first place. Is my primary motive environmental benefit, personal gain of increased privacy, or the countless benefits to the local wildlife?
Later in the day (Ok, the next day – yes that’s bad, I know!) I step out to retrieve ‘my’ tree. I am overcome with fondness for what I now perceive as the underdog, and I remember with familiar warmth the trees that have defined the milestones of my life:
The neatly potted acorn grown Oak that was robbed of first prize at Hever village show over a decade ago. The ‘Queen’s tree’ (I forget why we called it that now:) Prunus x yedoensis that was planted for me on our front lawn, chosen for its flowers that would bloom around my birthday. The beech tree Fagus sylvatica ‘Dawyck’ we planted for my eldest while I was pregnant in 1997. The list goes on…but the constant is our human desire/ need for ritual and our appetite to mark such occasions with an offering of/ to nature. Life whirls on, but these trees forge their own path. The purple beech can still be seen in Bicton car park growing true and strong, but the cherry has not fared so well, cut down when new homeowners could not resist the lure of a freshly tarmacked drive – not even for the delicate delights of a fragrance like maple syrup.
I try to visualise the roots of this Malus Suprize, now constricted by the dimensions of its black plastic pot, juxtaposed next to the long-established fig tree whose roots are free to roam and seek out water, nutrients, and stability. All too easily our faith journey can become one of constrictive terms of agreement and an expectation that our sustenance will be provided for with little or no effort on our part. I am so glad that is not the case, for our relational God understands that we each have highly specific needs, that are understood by our creator without the requirement for a label. So it is with my relationship to nature; if I seek to dominate and control, I may as well say that I am above the rest of creation, and I am uncomfortable with the term stewardship for this very reason. The biblical scholar Norman Habel challenges us to accept that the bible does indeed present a mandate to dominate in Genesis, hence the title of his book An Inconvenient Text. ¹ Centuries of biblical interpretation that are anthropocentric have skewed our sense of place and right belonging within the ecological balance of planet earth.
So what can we do to liberate ourselves from this mandate to dominate?
I believe we can make a start by seeing our interaction with the natural environment the way we would any relationship that has been damaged or broken, when one party exploits the other. We need to make amends, spend time in nature – listen to her voice, and take her seriously.
As I start to plant the trees in my garden, I spend a bit of time just sitting and observing. I see the orange sap of the cherry, the crispness of the apple blossom that so reminds me of the fruit, the graft on the trunk, the passing of a bee. I reflect on how much I am missing out on if I hold back from this relationship.
In Proverbs 4: 6-7 (NRSV) we hear:
Do not forsake her, and she will keep you;
love her, and she will guard you.
The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom,
and whatever else you get, get insight.
The bible talks a lot about how we need to seek out wisdom and make a place for her in our soul; these small trees have their wisdom to teach me too. In Job 39 God reminds us that our control over the wild creatures is an urban myth! yes, even the ostrich is laughing at us – and quite rightly too. If you have time this week, why not plant a tree? Not only will it enhance your physical environment, but it is a positive action we can take to tackle climate change. A friend of mine grew an Oak tree in a pot for many years and when it was too big, he gave it to a friend who was a landscape gardener to plant in a client’s garden –
how big that tree
its lateral roots have spread –
and how many have found peace
under its canopy?
Who will I offer shelter to today?
Who will I comfort?
Who will I give of my time and self to support?
If we find ourselves lonely during these strange times, let us look to nature for our comfort, for in her we shall find all the wisdom we seek, and the modelling of the unconditional love of a saviour. Take a jotter and a pencil and start writing, sketching, or doodling all that is in your heart, for when we seek God things happen, and change is sure to follow, as sure as the rising of Aprils full pink moon.
May God be revealed to you in the details of your days and the resting of your nights. Amen.
¹ Norman Habel, An Inconvenient Text (Adelaide: ATF Press, 2009)