I've always been inspired by trees. And it was no surprise to my friends that our second house was distinguished by a huge oak tree at the front gate. It seemed almost to glory in its agelessness and size. It was five stories high, with a wingspan (leafspan, if you like) of 40 feet.
It filled the garden with beauty, made music with its leaves, and loved birds as much as we did. There were times when it seemed to clap its hands with joy, like those trees spoken of in the 55th chapter of Isaiah.
It stood firm - even smiled, I thought - in the face of subtropical hailstorms. It opened its arms to the breezes that cooled us in summer, and dropped its leaves in winter to let warming sunlight reach in.
The more I think about the spiritual qualities represented by trees in general, the more I appreciate a mountain oak encountered by Mary Baker Eddy, the woman who founded the Monitor. Clouds adorned its brow, she said, and the skies clasped its hand. In a poem she wrote about it (see "Miscellaneous Writings," pg. 392), she let the tree set goals for her own life:
Faithful and patient be my life as thine;
As strong to wrestle with the storms of
As deeply rooted in a soil of love;
As grandly rising to the heavens above.
As I look back over the years, I realize that's exactly what my oak did for me. It taught me about strong foundations, sturdiness in the face of life's storms, the importance of patience and resilience, openness to change (especially through the seasons), persistent growth - and the rewards of constantly reaching upward in thought.
Tree imagery (including the oak) is widespread in the Bible. The prophet Jeremiah used it in this way: "Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is. For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit" (Jer. 17:7, 8).
Not many people would ignore that promise. Yet it is challenging, too. It compels all of us to examine ourselves to find out what we're rooted in. To check our real source of vitality. Is it just possible that the mental ground is too hard, too callous and indifferent, for roots of progress to penetrate? Do we need to improve the quality of our soil - get more love into it? Are cares and worries choking us and preventing us from bearing fruit? Is it just possible that we might need some pruning?
A study of the Scriptures leaves no doubt that everyone's essential nourishment comes directly from God, the divine creator, the source of life itself, and of all meaningful growth. When we put our trust in Him and are attentive to what He says to us, God strengthens and cares for us.
Christ Jesus comes readily to mind as someone whose trust in God translated into fruit-bearing action. And he expected we could do the same - suggesting that, like trees, we would be known by our fruits (see Matt. 7:20). His thoughts and daily life were so clearly rooted in a conviction of his relation to God that he naturally expressed holiness, compassion, wisdom, courage.
And that is a megamessage of Christianity: that through an inseverable link to our divine source, each of us has oaklike qualities, spiritual qualities, with which to live better lives.
I once watched my oak tree stand, unflinching and luxuriant, through three summers of a devastating African drought. Its roots were so deep and firm that it never lost touch with its source of nourishment.
Even when our lives are enjoying drought-free, vibrant growth, we must still allow God to nurture us - enrich our soil, prune away undesirable traits of character, and show us how to share our shade with people around us.
You don't have to be a gardener or own an oak tree to know that when you respond humbly to God's care you will not wither in any climate, and will "never cease from yielding fruit." For with Him, you are "deeply rooted in a soil of love."
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society