Trees

An odd thing about Dallas is that you can hear the sound of leaf blowers any time of the year; their labor ceases not. Even today, there were dead leaves on the sidewalk as I walked to dinner. Trees here don’t lose leaves only in the fall; it happens year round. And the opposite happens year round also: there are always new leaves being made, if not in one tree, then in another species. Trees are continually changing.
    I’m writing this on a plaza. Beyond a parking lot there are eight or so distinct trees; beyond them, reaching above a shopping strip, a continuous bank of tall trees. They are varied in ways I lack the words to describe. Some are shaped by their sharply visible trunks; others are impressionistic blurs of green color in a roughly conical shape. I say there are about eight trees, and there are more than eight shades of green among them, from tree to tree and within each one, subtle variations that are beautiful and ineffable.
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    I think of trees as wanting to praise God. This was the conceit behind Susan’s story about trees (printed at the end of Losing Susan): that the trees wanted to know how to praise God, and he first forgot about them, but then told them to lift up their arms in silent prayer.
    They look so immovable, the trees. Everywhere they are fixed in the ground. They don’t move like rabbits or birds. But still they are alive. They shed leaves and push out new ones. They lift their arms, their branches, striving to reach up towards their maker.
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    Hallowed be thy name: I think of this as I run in the morning, not too fast, and pass so many trees. I get to know them, and can tell they have changed. It’s imperceptible to the casual passerby, but watch them for awhile and you’ll see, not just the shedding and producing of leaves, but the changes in color, in tint, in fullness. The slight growth upwards, and outwards. They look still, like rocks, but they grow, they change, like children, like neighbors.
    They want to praise God, just as you and I do.
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    Do trees know Jesus’ name? Susan gave them grief. They provided the wood for Jesus’ cradle. They gave his father Joseph a line of work. But then they had to be the material on which the dear Son died. Why did he have to die on a tree?
    So, she said, they wept. Their branches fell; they drooped to the ground; they were burdened by the deepest sadness in the world: he, the dearest one, had died on them.
    But then they awoke on Sunday, and there was the new life, the Son walking underneath and between them. Slowly, and then strongly, they raised their branches again. And once again they praised God.
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    Out & About. This Sunday, May 19, will be the “Good Books & Good Talk” seminar on Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie at Church of the Incarnation, Dallas, 6 to 7:30 p.m. If you read the novel, you’re welcome to the conversation.
    June 3-5, from Monday evening through Wednesday noon, a conference I organize (the Pro Ecclesia conference) is happening in Baltimore: “What’s the Good of Humanity?” We have many excellent speakers, and it is a good time. I would love to see you: http://www.e-ccet.org/pro-ecclesia-conference-2019-whats-the-good-of-humanity/
    If you are not going to be in Baltimore for that Pro Ecclesia conference, then you might want to check out an event at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus in New York City. Rowan Williams will give a lecture, “The Embodied Logos,” under the auspices of Fordham’s Orthodox Christian Studies Center, Tuesday, June 4, at 6 p.m. Information about the conference in general is here, but you might not need to register for Williams’ lecture alone:  https://forever.fordham.edu/s/1362/18/interior.aspx?sid=1362&gid=1&pgid=7133&content_id=7136&_ga=2.157923322.1799732053.1557791273-891755505.1557791273. I note the conference also includes lectures by Carolyn Chau and Peter Bouteneff, both of whom have spoken in recent years at our conferences in Baltimore.
    What theologians read. If you don’t have it, I recommend my book, Losing Susan, not for my own writing, but for the appendix which is this tree story! The Kindle or other e-book is very reasonably priced.

 

The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."