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Lenten Lights T is for Tree

Oak 3-20-2014

Each day when I arrive at my office, I take a picture of this tree. As I step out of my car, I stand in roughly the same place and line up my phone/camera using the building and parking lot as markers. My curiosity and love for the earth and its trees motivate my daily practice. The practice also trains attention. Far too many times we move through life without really seeing what or who is in our path, much less paying careful attention.

Tonight I listened to Vanderbilt Divinity School Dean, Dr. Emilie Townes, speak at the biennial meeting of the Association of Practical Theology. She addressed the meeting’s theme: “Practicing Public Theology.” She said practical theologians need to offer students and parishioners a “public vocabulary of faith.”  That vocabulary needs to reflect theological work that is “rigorous and relentless.” The public speech needs to practice truth telling, and it needs to “lean into the thick is-ness of our lives.”

I take photos of this tree each day because it has so much to say and show about life, growth and death, about love of the earth and all that is created, about seasons and weather, about history and change. The analogies for human life in a tree are endless. This oak is an inspiration in its very “is-ness,” and paying attention changes me steadily over time. Noticing with care expands my understanding of the relational and everyday character of faith. Writing about the experience publicly opens a possibility for others to notice what and who lies along their own daily path, and it invites a conversation about what it means for each of us to live in the “thick is-ness” of life.