I love going for walks, especially in the woods, even better when there is a meandering stream or creek. I could listen to the sound of the water making it's way over the rocks and around roots and other obstacles for a very long time. I am always fascinated by how trees have attached themselves to the bank, or sometimes even grown in the middle of the stream. These trees are tenacious and determined to exist where they are planted - sometimes that even works out well for the tree. Other times, for a tree that has been rooted for ages suddenly the bank may erode away from around the base; conversely it may become flooded. Certain trees are better adapted for life around water than others, but a tree in or near a river is a study in how earth, water, wind, and sunlight interact and play with each other.
First of all, a tree that has been rooted in the middle of a stream: you have to wonder how this tree came to be in this spot, surrounded by what must surely be a harsh environment, how can the tree survive? As I look at this tree, buffeted by wind and water, I begin to feel in myself how I can feel like the tree. Without something anchoring me, deep and solid, when the vagaries of life come tumbling along, I could become knocked loose from my perch among the dirt and rocks. On the other hand, that which buffets me also sustains me. As the water flowing by the tree brings punishment and nutrients, events, people, and situations in my life carry both frustrations and enlightenment and goodness.
The tree we study on this virtual walk could also be a transplant from another section of riverbank or even from farther away. This tree may have experienced being uprooted at some point in its early life before it was able to cling to the patch of soil it is so firmly attached to now. This is good to remember because it reminds me that I do not always need to keep my mental roots anchored to the same points, but as I am buffeted by life, I can allow myself to release my current bank, flow further down the river, and cling again to mental terra firma. The roots that have sustained me will still be present; I will just have a different perspective.
Another trait of this tree is the shape of the branches and the canopy of leaves. If the tree battles the wind from one direction predominantly, the tree will be angled to indicate the way the wind blows. The leaves will be fuller around the outside edges and top of the tree, leaving the trunk area barer, less light reaches through the foliage. If the wind should shear off a branch, more branches, with leaves, will spring from the undamaged sections of the tree to bring life and the sun's nourishment to as much of the tree as possible. The tree, anchored deep in the riverbank, is constantly changing, re-shaping, reforming, but it is always undeniably a tree. We see it taking shape, but it is through the power of the hidden processes that the tree survives and thrives.
Sunday Spoiler: the metaphor of the tree comes up in the Jeremiah readings and the imagery of Psalm 1. The blessings and curse mentioned have analogous ties to the Sermon on the Plain reading from Luke. What anchors you?
~Rev. Andrea Joy Holroyd