“In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” (Genesis 2:9b)
“Nature is a parable that, in its structure, orderliness, beauty and design points beyond itself to its creator...” --David F. Wells
“The heart has its reasons which Reason does not know.” --Blaise Pascal
“...[R]omance is at the heart of the universe and is the key to all existence.”--Paul Billheimer
I am convinced that the natural world, the physical realities and wonders we see around us, great and small, are somehow “shadows”, signposts, metaphors and markers for what's truly True. I think most of us sense that the physical realm in which we walk about and explore is infused with and reflects a deeper Reality, a deeper Presence. Indeed, C.S. Lewis famously referred to this natural world as a “Shadowland”, a land that invites human beings to seek further, dig deeper, to wonder and to inquire. The natural order of things, the Laws of Nature, Beauty, Virtue, Ideals and Moral Motions suggest a Standard and Truth beyond what is tangible and measurable by the sophisticated scientific instruments of man (ie., the “cold hard facts” of Rationalism) just as surely as a cast shadow suggests both an object (and a light) outside of, beyond and greater than itself.
We are indeed, like Plato's prisoners in a cave. Our senses make us aware of material and physical reality, while at the same time those flickering shadows on the wall (as in Plato's cave) nudge us closer to an awareness of a more profound Reality....an Idea, or a Reason behind the dancing shadows...a First Cause or Logos.
It is in light of all this that The Tree intrigues me so......
Scripture begins and ends (in the Books of Genesis and Revelation) with references to the Tree of Life. Like “Bookend Sentinels” this reference invites inquiry and contemplation, meditation and even, perhaps, our prayers.
(In fact, the Hebrew word translated “tree” used in Genesis 2: 9a is rooted and derived from another Hebrew word meaning “to fasten or make firm...to close (the eyes) shut” ...as, perhaps, in prayer and meditation.)
“And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food.....” (Genesis 2: 9a...)
Additionally, the very first verses of the of the Book of Psalms begins this way:
“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners..... He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.” (Psalm 1: 1...3)
Clearly, there is something about the tree that is able to strike a deeply harmonious and aesthetic spiritual chord within us which can echo through the soul. Whether this be triggered by the stately majesty of an ancient Live Oak, the awesome grandeur of the giant Redwood, the glorious and explosive beauty of colorful autumn leaves or the Dogwood's sublimely delicate appearance in the southern woods of early spring, “the tree” is able to stir us deeply. And I am convinced that this intrinsic, aesthetic power is purposefully designed and set in motion as if...somehow...we are being romanced by it.
“Sentinels of Truth and Beauty”
By the Tree, Lord, you've invited
Thirsty souls to comprehend...
Give us rest there in its Shadow,
Shade of Peace that never ends.
Plant its seed of Truth within us
There by revelation's stream...
Help us grow and there be fruitful...
Grant us there true self-esteem
Sentinels of Truth and Beauty,
Trees,...so pleasant to the sight!
Help us close our eyes in Wonder;
Help us taste there sweet delight.
Walk us through this earthly forest...
Prick each soul by Beauty there;
Help us fathom this Your Shadow
Feed the Soul and lay it bare.
Give us knowledge of Your Nature
Through this nature You Designed...
Give us insight...Teach us Wisdom,
Give us Grace to seek and find.
Help us step beyond the Shadow
Of the mist and forest wood...
Teach us of your Grace and Glory,
Teach us, Lord, both Truth and Good.
Help us step outside the Shadow
So that we may see the Light...
Revelation, dawn upon us!
Help us know Thy Mercy's might.
Guide us to The Tree that matters
In this world,... this Shadowland....
May we bow before its Beauty...
Righteousness for Sinful Man!
Show us how The Tree may save us...
Take us, Lord, to Calvary
Where You've tendered your Proposal...
And your Love can set us free.
“The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual.” (1Corinthians 15: 46)
“The simplest forms of nature are strangely animated by the sense of Divine presence..the trees and flowers all, in a sort, children of God.” --John Ruskin (painter)