September 6, 2020, Season of Creation: Forest Sunday, Pastor David Tatgenhorst and
Reverend Drick Boyd
Genesis 2:4b-22 At the time when YHWH made the heavens and the earth, There was still no wild bush on the earth nor had any wild plan sprung up, but YHWH had not yet sent rain to the earth, and there was no human being to till the soil. Instead, a flow of water would well up from the ground and irrigate the soil. So YHWH fashioned an earth creature out of the clay of the earth, and blew into its nostrils the breath of life, and the earth creature became a living being. YHWH planted a garden to the east, in Eden—“Land of Pleasure”—and placed in it the earth creature that had been made. Then YHWH caused every kind of tree, enticing to look and good to eat, to spring from the soil. In the center of the garden was the Tree of Life, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. A river flows through Eden to water the garden, after which it branches into four tributaries. The first stream is named Pishon, or “Spreader.” It circles through Havilah, a land rich in gold. gold of the highest quality. There are gum resins there, and precious onyx stones. The second stream is named Gihon, or “Gusher,” and it flows through the entire land of Cush. The third stream is the Tigris, which borders Assyria on the east. The fourth stream is the Euphrates. Then YHWH took the earth creature and settled it in the garden of Eden so that it might cultivate and care for the land. YHWH commanded the earth creature, “You may eat as much as you like from any of the Trees of the garden—except the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil You must not eat from that tree, for on the day you eat from that tree, that is the day you will die—yes, die.” Then YHWH said, “It is not good for the earth creature to be alone, I will make a fitting companion for it.” So from the soil YHWH formed all the various wild beasts and all the birds of the air, and brought them to the earth creature to be named. Whatever the earth creature called each one, that became its name. The earth creature gave names to all the cattle, all the birds of the air, and all the wild animals. But none of them proved to be a fitting companion, So YHWH made the earth creature fall into a deep sleep, and while it slept, God divided the earth creature in two, then closed up the flesh from its side. YHWH then fashioned the two halves into male and female, and presented them to one
September 6, 2020 Spirituality of Trees St. Luke
Season of Creation: Forest Sunday with Pastor Drick Boyd
David - At a Black Lives Matter vigil last week I spoke with a pastor colleague who happened to mention that he does not allow Christmas trees in his sanctuary. He mentioned that he saw them as a pagan leftover that takes away from the focus on the Christ child. Maybe getting rid of Christmas trees as a symbol of commercialism would make sense, but trees are essential to all life. We don’t worship them - maybe pagans do - but they really important for our spirituality, as our passage this morning shows. This morning we celebrate God as the creator of forests that give us life and breath, of fruit trees that give us food, of trees that inspire poetry and song, of the roots and branches of life.
Pastor Drick: My fascination with trees has been rekindled recently by reading The Overstory by Richard Powers and The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. Both of these books, one fiction, one nonfiction, have awakened me to the ways in which trees have moved through time and history, and how they will outlive human beings, even though we seem to be doing everything we can destroy them and inhibit their growth. They are smarter and wiser than we are, and will have the last word.
In this time of COVID-19 there is so much uncertainty and so much foolishness. We have a president who changes his mind between a public commitment and his next tweet. Protestors act as if their individual freedom is without bounds and responsibility to others. Some foolish people ignore the basic advice the medical experts give us to wear a mask and keep our distance. Not to mention the virus itself, the lives it keeps taking and the timeline for recovery only it knows. In the midst of these threats, the trees and flowers help me get perspective.
David: There is a tree, a Japanese Maple, in my backyard that has flourished since we removed a larger Mulberry tree. Since I have lived in my house for 25 years I have watched from our second floor bedroom as that tree has grown from something I could look down on to a towering, majestic beauty. It reminds me each day that I notice it that there is a reality bigger and older than we are.
Our scripture from Genesis, describing the beginning of creation, centers the creation of trees and forests. This centering of trees reminds us of how important they are to life, to breath, to the healthiness of our eco-system. Call me a tree-hugger if you like - trees are alive and live much longer than we do. The Overstory book that Drick mentioned talks about new research that shows how trees communicate with each other. No wonder our legends impute wisdom and long term perspective to the trees.
Drick: I plant flowers and look at trees in part because I find peace and inner joy in the beauty of these expressions of the natural world. But I also plant and look at the trees because they are something tangible in this time of uncertainty and not knowing. And they remind me to keep focus and reach out and support those around me.
The flowers and the trees speak to me in another way about the longevity and cycles of life. Come October and November my flowers will have wilted and died, and the leaves will fall off the trees leaving branches bare. There are times of barrenness ahead, of struggle, and even suffering. But just as the flowers and trees bud after the time of winter fallow, there is reason to hope for the emergence of a new normal and we will adjust.
May we learn to be kind, first to ourselves, and then to others, because the days ahead will be difficult; we will stumble, we will fail, we may lose loved ones, we may suffer, but we will come through. The trees show me that we can endure. The flowers remind me of the beauty of this moment. Living in that tension of the now but not yet is where we are, and where we must be.
David: Research shows that people who live near and among trees are healthier and live longer. Japanese folks encourage a spiritual practice of “tree bathing” - slowing down and walking among trees. Studies show that such activity could reduce blood pressure, lower cortisol levels and improve concentration and memory. A chemical released by trees and plants, called phytoncides, has been found to boost the immune system. Trees contribute directly to our health, and feed us spiritually.
Spiritually we may find an even more powerful connection through the experience of awe. Awe acts like a kind of reset button. It makes people forget themselves as we feel small in the vastness of Creation of which we are a small part. Our petty concerns shrink as we look out at acres and acres of forest from the vista of a stop on the mountain of the Appalachian Trail. Awe can ease the pain of a broken heart and help us to know that we are part of something huge. Awe opens us to new values and possibilities in our life. Awe is - or can be - where true prayer begins.
Drick: Picture of tree and it’s adaptability to its environment. This is how we are needing to adapt during the pandemic.
Picture of a forest of trees that communicate with each other. This is how we need community during difficult times..
David: Let me say one more thing about how trees remind us of the cycles of life. The Genesis story of the tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil is a story about innocence and knowledge. We imagine a time when we all lived in innocence in the garden with trees and creation taking care of everything for us, not having to worry about a thing. But the legend of the Garden of Eden reminds us that our innocence is interrupted at many points in our lives. It talks about eating of the fruit of the tree, but it could be reading a book or talking to a friend, or watching the news that complicates our understanding of the world, that alerts us and makes us see differently.
We go back to the tree hoping to restore our innocence, but we can’t get back to the garden. We have to live in the real world. Nonetheless the tree is still there - the beauty of the fruit and the reminder of the cycles of life and of God’s care help ground us in a bigger picture that trees seem to know.
So we begin this season remembering with awe the Spirit in Creation of the Universe. Each Sunday this month we celebrate the beauty of God’s Creation and the wonder that we have a relationship with the Creator of all that is - in our own heart beat, in our own breathe, in our own connection with forests, land, wilderness and rivers.
Today we join together in a ritual we call Communion that unites us with all humankind and with all of creation through the simple act of eating. It calls us back to the tree - our rootedness in the power of God’s creation. This ritual brings us into God’s presence through elements we consecrate and the connection we have to the forest of God’s community.
This is God’s good news.