Every so often, I forget something about trees.
The other day I went to a few stores and picked up the necessary supplies to plant some flowers and vegetables and herbs for the planters on our deck. I bought the potting soil and the plants and a few new items for the season and then got to work.
After a few hours over the course of a few days, the deck was set and watered and lovely. I sat back and enjoyed the fruits of my labor in anticipation of actually eating the fruits of my labor. It was then, listening to the birds, that I noticed the trees by our sidewalk, just over the backyard fence. They had budded and now were growing bright, luminous lime-green leaves.
The birds were happy and I was happy.
Enjoying their beauty, something occurred to me. I have, over the course of my life, spent untold hours working on gardens and lawns. I have, each year, planted flowers and vegetables and herbs; I have watered and mowed lawns since I was a boy, week after week, month after month. I did all these things because growing things need to be planted and cared for; except for trees.
I have planted trees in my life, but most of them were there when I showed up and will be there when I leave. I enjoy their shady coolness in the summer and rake up their fallen leaves in the autumn, but I usually do not have to work on trees like I have to work on a garden or a lawn. Because of this, I forget something about trees.
I forget they are actually alive.
The trees around me can seem rather monolithic and a bit unchanging. I mean they grow leaves and lose leaves, and that is noticeable, but I do not really spend time noticing their growth, like I would notice the growth of flowers or vegetable plants. Trees simply seem ancient and mysterious to me.
Trees, in forests or simply in the back yard, provide shelter and nourishment to so much life, offering protection and peace of heart that comes from the gentle swaying of the branches and the soft sound of the wind through their leaves. They simply seem to be there, always there, so I have to remember that they themselves are alive.
Because they are alive, they change and grow, as all living things do. They seem ancient and unyielding because to notice their growth you have to be patient, and take the time to notice the subtle changes that are marked in years and decades, not days and weeks. On Pentecost Sunday, sitting on the deck after a number of graduation receptions, as I chatted with Fr. Grant Lacey about his upcoming new assignment and move from Aberdeen, I was staring at the trees on the other side of the fence as we chatted.
As we talked, a small part of my mind was calculating how much they had grown since I moved in three years ago. As we talked about changes and assignments and moves, I thought trees, perhaps even more than mustard plants, best reflect the mystery of the Church in the world.
Each individual parish can seem rather monolithic and unchanging. It is easy to get that sense because the Church simply is, and is always there, offering protection and nourishment and gentle refreshment for the mind and heart. Yet, it is alive, changing and growing; a priest moves and a new one arrives, and things change; parishioners die and another is baptized, and things change. A parish goes through the beautiful cycle of the liturgical year, but each year it is different because the parish is different.
It is a gift of the Holy Spirit for us to remember the living, growing aspect of our parish because this knowledge challenges us to care for the gift of our parish family. Like all living things, it needs nourishment and care, it needs our time and attention and support to grow and to be the gift to the world it is meant to be.
When you walk into that parish church on the weekend, remember you enter into a living thing, growing, changing and becoming, and you are a necessary part of that life. Christ sends His Spirit to bring life to your parish, but it is for all of us to nourish and care for this gift which is as ancient, as mysterious, and as fragile, as a mighty tree.