Part II: Trees
One of this Sunday’s passages is Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21.
As one commentator summarized it: “The conclusion of Revelation has seemed to many interpreters to be a bit choppy, a barely-held-together conglomeration of leftover pieces, stumbling toward the close of the book.” I’ll say.
Earlier this week I heard a sermon which dealt with the morass of endings by focusing on one image from the text: the tree of life. Just that phrase took me like a hyperlink to one of the most healing images of my own life time . . . .
Trees became important to me when I adopted one at the start of first grade. We had just moved to a new house, and being a child who attached herself with great loyalty to things, I was lost and sad about leaving our old red house, with the fenced yard, and a swing hung between two large trees. But the new yard had a lot of trees. At one time in those early years my brother and I counted over a hundred. Many along the back drainage ditch were planted too close together and eventually had to be thinned out.
Large proud tulip poplars, a sturdy reaching magnolia, dogwoods and few pines, and dozens of oaks and maples filled the yard. The maples were the best climbing trees. The bark is nearly smooth and so not hard on the hands. The branches are sturdy down low, and they stretch out just right in every direction.
I adopted the tree next to the sidewalk near the street as my personal climbing tree. And in all kinds of weather and season after season I climbed that tree. I took things up with me often and had a couple of favorite perches. I also liked to climb as high as I could and survey the neighborhood through the leaves. And I regularly took a book up with me to read in that tree.
The tree grew with me, but I had an exact routine for climbing it, perfected over the years. I stood in the same spot about three feet from the trunk and reached up for a wide Y. From there I drew my legs up and through, and then pulled my whole body into a sitting position. Then I reached for the next branches, turning so my back came to the main trunk, and up I went same way time after time. As a teenager I remember climbing up there to cry occasionally. The tree was always patiently waiting for me. Ready to heal by just being.
In a really practical way it was the tree of life for me. Intertwined with my life, my friends, my books, my family, my home. I probably grieved the tree as much as the house when we left that place as I started college. But I’ve carried it with me in my imagination, and that tree, along with hundreds of others, has been healing. They speak so eloquently, so silently of God’s loving care. They are a source of well-being that is intertwined with my body and heart.
So when the leaves came around in baskets on Tuesday morning, I took one. And I was reminded of a kind of healing that is available to me at every turn. The greening power of life, waiting to embrace, growing quietly beside the still waters, restoring my soul.