Healing Leaves – Article on Trees by John Anderson
Why is the very welcome planting and preserving of trees becoming so widespread?
First, it is an action we can all do to reduce global heating: who does not know that trees give off oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide?
Secondly, the Queen is leading the way. The Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy was begun in 2015 and embraces Epping Forest together with forests in Canada and Antigua. The use of the evocative word “Commonwealth” is apt; trees are a vital, long-lived part of our natural common heritage, our common wealth or, better, our common well-being, the original meaning of ‘wealth’.
Thirdly, for Christians, trees are part of our religious fabric. In the hot dry climate where the Bible was written, trees can frequently be the only green life visible in a dusty landscape. God’s word is alive even when the soil around it is arid. From Genesis to Revelation, trees illustrate God’s purposes.
Genesis 2:9 reads “The Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food”. Humans are often likened to trees: in Psalm 1:3 those who delight in the law of the Lord are “like trees planted by streams of water which yield their fruit in its season and their leaves do not wither.” “The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life” says Proverbs 11:30. Jesus saw the tree as a symbol of the kingdom of God: “it is like a mustard seed… sowed in the garden. It grew and became a tree and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.” In Luke 6:43, Jesus said “No good tree bears bad fruit… For each tree is known by its own fruit.… The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good.” As has often been remarked, the Bible begins and ends in a garden. In Revelation 22:2 there is a glorious description of the heavenly city in which “on either side of the river is the tree of life… And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”
Big trees, like the elephants they so often resemble, evoke awe. Moreover, both can live longer than us. We know that trees can communicate with each other underground and warn of threats. And yet fifty years ago virtually all large elms in our country died – although there is, in the Museum Gardens of York, one flourishing Wych Elm still. Ash trees are dying by the million. Fires are burning forests world-wide. Thus our planting and care of trees are never more needed than now.
Christians are involved in cherishing trees. Here in Bradford, Yorkshire, Baildon Methodist Church has forty fruit trees in its garden, some of which are of unusual old varieties. In this church an appropriately named ‘branch’ of the Friends of the Earth was founded 11 years ago; it now is planting hundreds of trees along the River Aire and in peat-free parts of Ilkley Moor. Bradford Cathedral has initiated the planting of many trees in the Forest of Bradford. It would be good to hear in the Methodist Recorder of other tree-plantings by Christians.
St Francis said to a tree “Speak to me about God.” And it blossomed. Richard Rohr wrote in 2021, “Once we become aware of the generous, creative presence that exists in all things by their very nature, we can honour the indwelling spirit as the inner source of all dignity and worthiness…….The true and essential work of all religion is to help us recognise and recover the divine image in everything.”
John D Anderson. Member of Baildon Methodist Church, Bradford. 23.11.21
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