Trees as Ancestors: Healthy Trees, Healthy People, Healthy Faith, Wk. 4

This 8-week interfaith devotional has been designed to encourage and uplift you as you connect your faith with your love of nature.  The devotional is part of the Healthy Trees, Healthy People, Healthy Faith study in Lexington, Kentucky, which you can read about here.  But you can use this devotional wherever you are in the world that you can find some trees! This week’s devotional focuses on the notion of trees as our ancestors.


Trees as Ancestors

Photo credit: Leah D. Schade. All rights reserved.

From the Cherokee tradition:

According to Cherokee legend, after a time of great darkness when many people died, the Creator placed their spirits in a newly created tree. This tree was named a-tsi-na tlu-gv {ah-see-na loo-guh} – the cedar tree.  Cherokee remind their children that when they smell the aroma of the cedar tree or gaze upon it standing in the forest, they are to remember that they are looking upon their ancestor. 


Tradition holds that the wood of the cedar tree holds powerful protective spirits for the Cherokee. Many carry a small piece of cedar wood in their medicine bags worn around the neck. It is also placed above the entrances to the house to protect against the entry of evil spirits. A traditional drum would be made from cedar wood.

You, me, earthworms, ants, bees, tigers, sloths, and aphids: we all need trees.  One of the most simple and direct ways we can pass along God’s green Earth in better condition than we received it is to plant trees.  Perhaps you can plant a tree in honor or memory of a person who taught you to love trees!

Questions to ponder:

  1. Who taught you to love trees? Who has most shaped your attitudes, feelings, and values about nature and environmental concerns?
  2. Of the trees you have studied so far in this program, which one do you think would best represent a person you have loved who has died?


God of all who lives, and God of all who have died – we entrust to you our loved ones.  We give thanks for our ancestors who planted trees and passed their knowledge onto us.  We give thanks for the Native Peoples of this nation, while we lament that their sacred traditions and stories have been ignored, silenced, or destroyed.  Give us hearts and minds to learn what they have to teach us, so that we may honor the trees as our very kin.  Amen.

[If you want to receive the full 8-week devotional via email, contact me at]

Want to see the previous weeks’ devotionals?  You can start with the first week here and follow the links for the rest of the devotionals online.

See also:

Preaching Trees: Healthy Trees, Healthy People, Healthy Faith, Wk. 5

Spreading the Gospel of Trees: Healthy Trees, Healthy People, Healthy Faith

Healthy Trees, Healthy People: Why Citizen Scientists are Needed as Climate Changes

Thanks to Matthew Sleeth for contributing to this devotional. His forthcoming book is called Reforesting Faith. Visit for more information.

Leah D. Schade is the Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship at Lexington Theological Seminary (Kentucky) and author of the book Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology, and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015). She is an ordained minister in the Lutheran Church (ELCA).

Twitter: @LeahSchade


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