A parable…sort of.
After unpacking our things I’m eager to show my wife and oldest daughter the sacred ground that is my grandma’s house at Mt. Hermon. It’s a very short walk down to Park Way, and hers is the first house we see. I stand in the dusty gravel parking space and inhale. The convergence of space, warmth of California redwood sap in the air, and flowers in the garden along the path to the door. It’s all still there, the same.
I show my family, explain to them how this place was heaven on earth for me when I was a child, a place of safety, warm hospitality, and fresh cool air. My wife, daughter, niece, nephew continue exploring, looking at a different house and this grants me a few minutes alone in a space that gave me life 40 years earlier.
The ones who made this place holy for me are all gone now. My grandma and aunt with their spectacular cinnamon roles and hugs – my dad, who’d go down to the creek, where we’d build sandcastles and skip rocks – my sister, who’d take her guitar down there to the creek and play Bob Dylan and Peter, Paul and Mary, while I with my drumsticks struck turned logs into drums. They’re all long departed from this earth. But the house, redwoods, creek? They’re all there, as if you couldn’t fit a piece of paper between today and 1965.
Alone in my thoughts, I ache with the loss of it all – to the point of tears. Then, the tree speaks:
“Welcome back!” I look up to see the tops of the redwoods dancing in the wind, as he speaks again, “I said welcome back!”
“thanks” I say, mindful of the voice in the midst, unsure of the source.
“It’s been awhile right?”
“Yeah…forty years, in fact, since I stood this close to her house. Man do I miss her and her sister. I don’t know what it was they did, but I never felt more at home, never felt more joy, anywhere, then here in their little redwood grove.”
We miss them too, the other trees and I. I remember your breakfasts out on the deck – the bacon and eggs, the cinnamon roles. The smell of coffee. They’d do that every morning, and then head off to work.
“…while the rest of us stayed and played. We’d head off to the creek, or to Santa Cruz to ride the Giant Dipper, or down to the field to ‘play a little catch’. One day during each vacation we’d go to a Giants game. But every night, when we’d come home from our adventures, Hannah and Esther would be there waiting with hugs and great food. Coming back here makes me ache with joy for the memories, with pain for the loss of them all. We’ve all moved on – they to glory, me to Seattle.” There’s silence while the weight of the joy and the loss sink in. I breathe deep of the intoxicating scent.
“There are new trees now. Have you noticed?” I look around, down toward the ground and see that, yes, while the old has remained, the new has begun. Dozens of redwood saplings dot the forest floor. I smile, comforted by the thought of the continuity that will happen because new life is constantly unfolding. “We sow” the tree says, “and they grow”
While I ponder the magic of new life, the tree changes the subject. “Still a Giant fan are you?” He sounds like Yoda and I tell him that God knows why, but I could never get it out of my blood, tell him that I sat and froze in the new park this past Friday night in pretty much the same way I froze in the old park 45 years ago. “Still love redwoods do you?”
“Of course” I say, telling the tree that I planted his great great great great great great grand-nephew in my backyard in Seattle, and how that’s become the favorite place for taking coffee with God.
“What about your hospitality ministry in the mountains? Where did that come from?” before I can answer he continues…
“What about your teaching ministry at Bible Schools?” I tell the tree about how my involvement with Torchbearer missionary fellowship came about because I heard a Bible teacher from England speak here at Mt. Hermon, about how grateful I am that the teacher gave it his all on what could have been “just another night” for him.
Can’t you see it? You’re the young sapling – the fruit planted in the soil here years ago, that’s growing to maturity. Your love of God, mountains, baseball, hospitality, conifers – where did all of that begin? The trees are really dancing in the wind now and I don’t need to say anything because we both know that I know the answer.
They invested well – your dad, grandma, great aunt. They prepped the soil. They sowed joy. Now its your turn.
“Nooooo!” I shout to the treetops. I can’t be them. I’m too greedy, too lazy. They were the greatest generation. They were devout. They were tireless. They were pious. They were…”
“human” the tree says, reminding me that, interwoven in each of them, right there with the glory of Christ, was their full on humanity, their issues, their brokenness.
“God doesn’t need your perfection” the tree says. It’s your time to sow, to teach, to give.”
And so it goes. I share this week what was shared with me, hoping, believing, that the seeds of Christ that are sown by we who know our inadequacies o so well will lead to a new generation of hope, rooted in Christ, sharing and giving what was given to them. I turn from the grove, prepared to give in the full measure I’ve received from those who’ve gone before me in this, my holy place.
O Lord Christ
We who have received such a vast inheritance from those before us are called to share freely. Yet we know ourselves too well, know that we are, on our best days, a mixture of glory and tragedy. Our views of the saints, muted as they are by romantic memories, heighten our sense of inadequacy. Thank you for that – it is only when we know, in our deepest parts, our inadequacy, that we’re free to live out from your strength. May this be, for all of us, an increasing reality as we move from saplings to reproducing, life giving, trees.