CAVEAT: unless you grew up in the South or in a rural area, you may not “get” the imagery in this blog entry. Sorry, City Mouse: every so often, ya gotta honor your roots (pun intended).
Psalm 1:3. He will be like a tree, firmly planted by streams of water...
Be like a tree planted by the water. Yes, yes, yes – anyone who grew up in church might have gotten hammered over the head with this verse (raises hand) as a command or life idea. One interpretation of this tree-by-river idea is that we of The Way are to be strong, deep and firm in our faith. Stand tall, if you will. Let our roots run deep and let nothing shake us: not wind, not a rising river, not a storm. Be better than that “Job” guy. But there might just be another perspective to look at here…
I well remember the lazy summer days, growing up in north Mississippi when as a boy (and my age was still calculated in single digits) and I went to go visit my friend Kelly at his house. Kelly, you see, had a tire swing. A tire swing stationed over a lake (well – more like a pond, but everything looked bigger then). And we would get on this swing and swing out over the lake/pond to dive in to cool off from the humidity. Or we’d climb up the tree and just jump in, fearing no beastie that lurked in the murky waters.
Or, if you were like me and you didn’t know how to swim, you simply investigated the tree and watched while everyone else risked life and limb.
One of the more striking mental images I carry with me to this day was the size of this tree, planted by the water, and its root system. Now, anyone who’s ever actually SEEN a tree planted by the water knows that if the tree is in fact planted close enough to the water – say on the edge of a lake/pond – that sometimes the roots can get exposed from erosion. However, if the tree is old enough, this isn’t necessarily a problem. The roots run so deep and are so strong that anything exposed isn’t going to cause it to fall. The tree is so entrenched in the ground that it can’t fall. You even note that some animals, fish, bugs, or what have you take refuge in these exposed roots. That what makes the tree strong provides shelter for them. The tree is rooted in the ground, and these roots help sustain the life of those who interact in its life.
It’s also interesting to note that this tree, panted by the water, also shows were it draws its nourishment from. The roots point to the water. And anyone who’s ever been in or near a lake/pond that doesn’t have the word “CEE-ment” in front of it knows that this water is…well, living. There is life in the water, both literally (hello, snakes and bacteria) and metaphorically (in that it sustains the fish and said tree).
The tree, planted by living water.
Sometimes we trees (Christians) are more than happy to show off our trunks or our leaves – you know, the outer adornments that show how strong we are or how beautiful we can be. Heck, we even get so hung up on showing our fruits sometimes that we let the fruit obscure the tree that it came from. But how often do we show what lies beneath™? How many times do we simply want to show forth our faith, act out our faith, or be commented on about our faith – all the outer adornments. Not that acting out our faith is a BAD thing. I like fruit (more than just as a last name). I appreciate fruit. I need fruit in my life. I want to act out my faith. But I don’t want my fruit to be so billowy that I let them steal the show, or that my life turns into some kind of one-upmanship over who does the best, does the biggest, or whose fruit looks and tastes the best.
Can we simply show our roots?
Can we show where we come from and what strengthens us without the bluster? Can we simply not show forth our firm foundation without focusing on how tall or how wide our trunks are, or how much we’ve grown? Exposing our roots may make us vulnerable in some ways – such as being honest enough to be able to talk about the dirt in our roots. We want to let people see what we think they should see – the trunk, the leaves, and the fruit – without ever thinking about showing the roots. We tend to think that people can infer that if we have fruit, we’ve got roots.
The plastic fruit on my dining room table doesn’t have roots.
Infer from that what you will.
Maybe we should allow ourselves to show that our roots cut through the dirt – that they cut through what we had to grow through – to become as deep and as firmly rooted as we are. That we can allow others to find some shelter in those roots, and it can be as easy as simply sowing that you’re not alone in what you grow through. That we can allow our roots to point to that water that sustains us and nourishes us. The water that we found ourselves planted by.
That the depth we have is as important as the height we grow to.
Because without that depth, no matter how tall we are or how beautiful our fruit is, we can topple.