Last Sunday, a line in the first reading from Jeremiah hit me. The “weeping prophet” struck a joyful note when he described one who trusts in the Lord as “a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream.”
Those words echoed in the Psalm that followed, which declared that the righteous one is like “a tree planted near running water.”
I don’t know why this image of a tree suddenly captivated me. The Bible is thick with references to trees.
Genesis begins with the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and Revelation ends with the Tree of Life.
In between, the mention of trees is surpassed in number only by those referring to people and to God.
Trees in the Bible, all those oaks and olives, figs and sycamores, had significance in their respective stories, but in general they were symbols for the attributes and the gifts of God.
But Sunday’s two were different. In these, the tree is used to convey what it means to be human in relationship to God.
According to children’s author Maria Gianferrari, “We are all like trees: our spines trunks, our skin bark, our hearts giving us strength like heartwood. We are fueled by air and sun.”
I don’t think Jeremiah or the psalmist would disagree, but they saw in the comparison something even more profound.
Trees try to grasp the heavens, but they can do this only because of a complex rooting system that can capture nutrients in the soil and spread out to delicately balance the tree. We, too, have been planted in a soil that feeds us through family, relationships, neighborhoods and traditions.
Time and attention to these will strengthen our roots and ensure stability as we reach for the light. Nutrients alone are not enough to bear fruit. Roots are in constant search of water, always stretching to the stream, as Jeremiah says.
This is true for us as well — for what is prayer but seeking out the water of life, the ever-flowing love of God that sustains us?
Driving today, I noticed cedar trees growing vertically out of the sheer limestone walls of the highway cutouts. Their radiating roots had dug through cracks in the rock to search for water and were now anchoring and giving life.
Like those cedars, we’re not all planted next to a running stream, but trusting in the Lord, we will find our way to the water.