Living in Tree Time #whattreesteachus

This was the benediction I prayed over my church. It came from a conversation we had about trees. We weekly have conversations as a part of our church worship. This one came from a Biblical study we did on the forest of trees in the Bible. I riffed these words out of that one conversation.

May you leave us tonight and find that your hope is in Jesus–and your roots with Jesus are deep. They are sustaining. They feed you. The growth may be slow. You are living in tree time, not mouse time.

There is life and there is death and the tree still grows. The tree is able to support life, feed life, hold life. May your deep deep deep roots in Jesus give you the hope. Even if your life hurts you this week and you don’t know how to get up the next day. May you realize you are still getting sustenance and nourishment through those roots because of Jesus. We are with you in those roots.

You are able to get up the next day and the next day because you are living in tree time. This tree is growing through the winter, spring, and the through the death of fall and it is continuing to grow. You are going to make it. You are going to stand tall. You are going to reach your arms up to heaven to praise God. You are going to join us next week. We are going to share stories of how God was with us as we live in tree time. Amen.

What do I mean by tree time? This is now something I can’t unsee as I read my Bible.

Do you realize how many trees are in the Bible? Christianity is the only religion that weaves trees throughout its sacred text. Every important character and every major event has a tree marking the spot. There is a tree in the first and last chapter of the Bible, in the first psalm, and in the first gospel. Other than God and people, the Bible mentions trees more than any other living thing. When you see a tree, branch, bush, root, or fruit on the page, look for God.

When I read my Bible I now can’t unsee all of this.

How many times did God call someone when they were sitting under a tree? Can you name at least 5 stories like that? Know there are many more.

Take a look at this picture. Imagine you are sitting under this tree. What is God revealing to you? Take a moment and do that.

What if you were actually sitting under that tree?

God uses trees to teach about time on a vaster scale. Trees are the longest-lived creatures on the planet. Trees are the only creatures that leave a count of every year they have lived. Trees are the only things from our childhood that are bigger when we go back and visit them as adults. (Is our faith like that?)

God is patiently trying to get us to think long term, to think of the larger story. Maybe this is why we feel such a connection to an old tree or to a walk deep into the woods (when we stop our lives long enough to do this).

The trees are telling us to slow down and look because here is where holy things happen.

A human life compared to an ancient tree is short: 70 years vs. five thousand. God wants us to think more on the scale of trees than of mice. But if you could take a look at my prayer conversations with God, you see that I tend to think like a mouse.

Read all of this beautiful article from The Smithsonian about talking trees. Here’s one teachable paragraph: 

“Wise old mother trees feed their saplings with liquid sugar and warn the neighbors when danger approaches. Reckless youngsters take foolhardy risks with leaf-shedding, light-chasing and excessive drinking, and usually pay with their lives. Crown princes wait for the old monarchs to fall, so they can take their place in the full glory of sunlight. It’s all happening in the ultra-slow motion that is tree time, so that what we see is a freeze-frame of the action.”

There is so much happening in tree time!

This all happens in tree time and trees grow anyway. May I be so inspired to grow anyway. It may feel like such slow growth. Oh yes, that is tree time.

From the same Smithsonian article:

“Since Darwin, we have generally thought of trees as striving, disconnected loners, competing for water, nutrients and sunlight, with the winners shading out the losers and sucking them dry. The timber industry in particular sees forests as wood-producing systems and battlegrounds for survival of the fittest.

“There is now a substantial body of scientific evidence that refutes that idea. It shows instead that trees of the same species are communal, and will often form alliances with trees of other species. Forest trees have evolved to live in cooperative, interdependent relationships, maintained by communication and a collective intelligence similar to an insect colony. These soaring columns of living wood draw the eye upward to their outspreading crowns, but the real action is taking place underground, just a few inches below our feet.

“’Some are calling it the “wood-wide web,”’ says Wohlleben in German-accented English. ‘All the trees here, and in every forest that is not too damaged, are connected to each other through underground fungal networks. Trees share water and nutrients through the networks, and also use them to communicate. They send distress signals about drought and disease, for example, or insect attacks, and other trees alter their behavior when they receive these messages.’”

Trees teach us we have need of each other. To live in tree time is to deepen our roots (go crazy with that metaphor on your own) and reach out to each other in our communal networks.

I wrote a book about this. My heart has been smashed and a 30-year prison sentence for your son is definitely tree time. (I wish this was my only smashed heart story but this is the public one.) I have learned it is my gift of people who keep me standing tall and reaching to the heavens every day.

So many metaphors—which are all so true.

This is just the surface of what trees teach us.

Trees teach us things when we walk under them. We should “forest bathe” every day somehow, no matter where you live. There is a Japanese practice called Shinrin-yoku or forest bathing. This is the science of being with trees, and for some is even considered medicine. (Read more from Dr. Qing Li, chairman of the Japanese Society for Forest Medicine.)

Several studies have shown that when we connect with nature, we are reminded that we are part of something larger than ourselves. Faced with the awesome vastness of the universe, we become flooded with gratitude. We become less selfish and start to think about others. The study also found that this happens when you just watch a DVD of Planet Earth. Another favorite study found that if you are in the hospital and had a room with a view of trees, you healed faster.

I regularly practice forest bathing but didn’t recognize it as that until 2022. I’ve got 25+ years of daily practice of forest bathing so I do say there is some healing medicine in it. I have acknowledged it over the years but not I have a cool name for it.

When we plant trees we are learning (and doing something like God since he loves planting trees in gardens as in Genesis and Revelation so why not here too). When we study trees the rest of life starts to make sense. When we sit under a tree we amazingly (almost without understanding) feel rested. When we sit under a tree and read the Bible and then study all of the trees in the Bible all at the same time, awe and wonder will blow your mind.

Does my spontaneous benediction now catch your breath like it did for us in that holy moment? Does living in your tree time make a little more sense to you?

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