On the Mississippi Gulf Coast, there is an old tree that is called the Friendship tree. It is a Live Oak tree that is believed to be five centuries old. It has weathered the test of time and many a windy storm. The first time I came upon this tree, I felt as if it was drawing me in preparing to tell me a story. Any living part of creation that survives five centuries certainly must have a story to tell. There are trees that line the Gulf Coast that are younger, but they survived the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina and I call them the Grandfathers, for they carry the damage of the storm in their bark and in the shaping of their limbs. You can feel their weathering standing next to them, but you can also feel their strength.
Psalm 1:3 shares that “They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not whither. In all that they do, they prosper.” The they in the psalm is meant to be the Israelites. They were likened to trees—trees that would find life giving water and strength. I remember sharing one day with a friend how much I loved the trees in the Company Gardens here in Cape Town. I was astonished to learn from him that the trees in the gardens grow so beautifully because underneath their ground flows a river of water from the mountains. Some of that mountain water is carried away and wasted, but the trees are situated strategically to receive and they witness to the truth of what it means to be catchers of that resource and in their lives be refreshed by it.
Live Oak trees have lateral roots that can grow ninety feet from the trunk line and from the lateral roots extend what are known as sinker roots, which create the anchoring that gives the trees such strength. Where are our anchors? Are our anchors in busy-ness? Are our anchors in the electronic maze? Are our anchors in the climb to the top of we don’t even know what or where? A tree searches for nutrients, that will bring it sustenance and strength. For the people of God, we find sustenance in God’s word. It is the best place for us to anchor ourselves, for in the Word of God is where we come alive.
There is a type of Fig tree called the Banyan Tree that bears multiple fruit. They are a tree that has a system of roots underneath, while they also drop roots from their limbs. The network of the roots pushes the tree to grow further in its life. There is a Banyan tree in Fort Meyers, Florida that was planted at four feet tall and now covers the span of an acre of land. To bear fruit in our lives that creates such growth not just in ourselves, but in the world around us, this is what it means to truly live! Revelation 22:2 speaks of a tree of life that stands in the middle of the city with a river of water flowing on both sides and the leaves of the tree, we are told, are for “the healing of the nations.” In this New Year, I invite you to find a tree. Examine its bark, wonder at its height, and work to emulate its network. Trees don’t simply reach up; they also reach out. Receive the gift of their majestic truth.
With you on the journey,
Grace and peace to you,
As we make the turn towards a New Year, I encourage us to make the turn with courage, with faith, and with hope. Thomas Merton did not share these words in vain. His journey through life was one of deep contemplation and intentional engagement. His writings help to center great leaders all around the world because they come from a place of truth that meets you on the ground and lifts you to new heights. New years are times for new thinking, new decisions, and the chance for us to begin again. New things always bring with them change.
The birth of Jesus did not happen in a time that was peaceful. It was a time of great uncertainty. There was a King on the throne who had murdered members of his own family. Joseph and Mary were on the run and chaos seemed to loom all about. The way of Jesus today rises in the midst of that same sort of chaos. The powers that rule today are not aligned with the needs of the people. The young are rising to name no more. The oppressed are raising their fists. It is into this day and this time that Jesus is beckoning to be born in us.
Jesus brings a new reign that promises to level the playing ground between the powerful and the meek. It is a reign that promises there will be food on the table when we all find our way home. It is a reign that is made real when people like you and I claim what we believe and live it. Releasing our lives to the promise of new life also means releasing our lives to the change that comes with it.
Change can be unsettling, confusing, incredibly challenging, but resisting change means resisting God. Embracing change means embracing the power of the Holy Spirit to bring about the something new that is unfolding.
When Mary submitted to the will of God, her words were, “Let it Be!” She teaches us with that one decision, the way forward in a New Year. Mary is never the same after those three words are uttered from her lips. Yet, through Mary we witness the birth of hope into the world.
May you embrace the way of new life and change in this New Year ahead.
Questions for Reflection:
1) Name the areas of your life where you have experienced something new needing to be born.
2) In what ways are you resisting change?
3) How can you take steps to embrace the new?
With you on the journey, Michelle