“I want to be, a tree” said the man on the Prudential advert back in 1989. A few years earlier Tim Pope made a cult video to his song of the same title, in between producing videos for The Cure. Pretending to be a tree is such a drama class cliché that when I wrote my promotional material for my dramatherapy service, I emphatically stated that this was not required. As a concession I added that it could be arranged by special request.
The blessed but rather late arrival of Spring this year means that I have been paying more attention to the trees around me. I always enjoy a beautiful cherry tree in blossom, and the lush green fresh leaves definitely brighten up my journeys to and from work. I took some pictures for sermon illustrations as my topic the weekend before last drew in lots of idea about trees.
I started with the notion of trees in distress, and talked about Alexandre Ponomarenko and his team of researchers in Grenoble University who have been listening to trees. Ultrasonic microphones pick up the sound of xylem breakage in trees which are stressed by drought and struggling to draw up the water they need. The team could then provide emergency watering.
The distress theme was a key one in my passage, Psalm 55 which has David in anguish, wishing he had the wings of a dove so he could fly away. After talking about how God can cope with our difficult emotions, and how expressing pain can help, I then looked into the way David prays – he calls out to God for help. He says God will sustain us and that he will never let the righteous be shaken (verse 22). Some versions of the Bible use the word ‘moved’ rather than ‘shaken’, and I talked about maybe how like a tree, we may be shaken by the wind but are not moved because of our strong sustaining roots.
I was encouraged that God really was speaking about this to us because earlier in the service, before I preached, a friend of mine who is nearly nine had shared a few verses from Psalm 1:
“Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither – whatever they do prospers.” Psalm 1:1-3 NIVUK
It sounds like God wants us to be like a tree, drawing ongoing refreshment from his word and presence and bearing fruit. He never runs dry– as we’d been reminded in one of the songs that had been led by my housemate during our time of worship that morning. Part of the way we bear fruit is by praying and seeing God answer. Jesus picks up some of these ideas when he says in John 15:
“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” John 15:7-8 NIVUK
I was telling some friends about a recent more mundane answer to prayer, when I wanted to make guacamole. Please Lord, I prayed, let there be some just ripe avocados in the reduced section of Co-op, and there were. Exactly what I needed. It makes me think I should raise my sights a bit higher and pray for more major things, but actually praying for small things is also good (see Pete Greig’s “Nice tree, Lord” story in this first Prayer Course video 9:14-10:24)
Prayer trees have been popular in various prayer rooms and chaplaincies around the world (see these in Sandwell hospitals overseen by Rev Ann Stevenson). People visiting the hospital are invited to write prayers for loved ones on leaves which are attached to the tree, reminding me of the verse in Revelation:
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” Revelation 22:1-2 NIVUK
Perhaps I should be praying more for healing than for avocados…