One of the joys of my recent family vacation in California was seeing the amazing redwoods and giant sequoias.
One of this week’s lectionary texts is Psalm 1. Here is the translation in the New Revised Standard Version.
1:1 Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers;
1:2 but their delight is in the law of the LORD, and on [God’s] law they meditate day and night.
1:3 They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.
1:4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
1:5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
1:6 for the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
What strikes me in reading this text today is how much we are, I am, both righteous and wicked. There is no simple division of people into camps: the good and the bad. We are both.
The giant redwoods have many amazing qualities. Qualities that allow them to survive for more than a millennia. One is that they survive fire by burning but not being destroyed.
Many of them bear large charred areas at the bottom of their trunks. Some of these 1200-1500-year-old trees have gaps burned all the way through them, holes large enough for me to walk through.
It is easy for me to read Psalm 1 as if I must fit one category or the other: happy follower of God’s ways planted comfortably by the living stream or wicked chaff blowing in the wind. My life, and those I know well, seem to be a strange mixture of good and evil, or maybe it is average rather than strange. The fruit borne is sometimes in season, ripe and inviting. Other times it never even flowers or withers on the branch. Even in a single day or hour a fire can rage or fruit can burst forth.
God sees it all and is older than the trees themselves, nourishing us like a living stream, shining on us like the sun, burning but not consuming, sending rain on the just and the unjust. The psalmist and the sequoias help me remember and imagine afresh how to turn myself god-ward, meditating on the presence of God in all, and discovering a steady happiness, the very blessing of being.