A Tree Eight Hundred Years Old


It’s just a chestnut tree, one of thousands of trees on the Camino, but scientists have determined its age to be some 850 years. It takes several people, arms stretched wide, to reach around it. It is old and gnarly, wounded yet still alive and grounded. You see it, you learn a bit about it, and your own life gets put in a new perspective.

The obvious thought is true. This tree, on the principal route and about 100 kilometers out from Santiago, has seen millions upon millions of pilgrims. Our lives, freighted often with anxiety, are but a passing day for this old tree.

It’s in the village of Ramil; Google “Ramil chestnut tree” and it comes up. They say it is as much photographed as anything on the Camino. This is my picture. It seems to me as awesome as anything Job saw when God finally spoke to him.


On the Web. When I lived in the midst of the crowds of New York City I often wondered over God’s ability to have everyone’s life in his hand. Something similar happened while I was walking the Camino: not that I was surrounded by millions of people, but that I got to know so many people’s stories so quickly. It is a marvel, and I ponder it in a short essay now up on the Human Life Review website. https://humanlifereview.com/god-has-all-of-us-in-mind/

Brief Book Report. Leonard Cohen’s song “Suzanne” has made it into my writing and preaching on Good Friday. Cohen, an alienated Jew, often moved from the erotic to the sacred; so from Suzanne’s “perfect body” (and yours) we go to Jesus’ and his watching from his “lonely wooden tower” which, methinks, can be taken as the cross. In a new book, Who by Fire: Leonard Cohen in the Sinai, Matti Friedman tells a story largely unknown, of Cohen going to Israel and singing to troops in the midst of the Yom Kippur war of 1973. “Who by fire” is a description of God in the Jewish liturgy, and it is woven into one of his famous songs. 

In the end it seems to me that Cohen is an imperfect prophet who nonetheless opens up pathways to deeper faith. He, as it were, takes the Song of Songs with seriousness. And in “You Want it Darker,” discussed in the final chapter of the book, Cohen takes Genesis 22, Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, with dread seriousness. (For the latter, look for Rabbi Jonathan Sacks speaking on the song on YouTube.) You might find this book interesting. You can find it in the Dallas Public Library.

Looking ahead. The next Good Books & Good Talk seminar will be Sunday, September 18, at Incarnation in Dallas. Anyone who reads the book is welcome. What’s the book? A rather obscure title by a reclusive English don, called The Hobbit.


The Rev. Canon Victor Lee Austin. Ph.D., is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Friendship: The Heart of Being Human" and "A Post-Covid Catechesis.: