Up a Tree
May 27, 2019
(Note: Every Monday morning I send out the Monday Morning Manna email. Today's blog post is the email that went out this morning. If you'd like to learn more or sign up to receive it for yourself, check it out.)
As a kid, my first goal of the summer was toughening my feet enough to be able to walk barefoot on the needle covered ground. The back secction of our yard was covered in pine trees, and I spent hours playing among them, happily barefoot in the summer. I used skinny, downed trees to build forts and lean-tos and anything else my imagination created. The most special tree, however, wasn’t a pine tree at all.
In the back corner of the lot was a grand old cedar tree, its trunk too big for my arms to encircle, worn mostly smooth with time. The first branch was long, and oblong shaped, flowing straight out from the tree. By putting both arms over it, I could walk up the trunk and scramble onto the branch, relaxing with my back against the sweet smelling, slightly sticky trunk.
I can’t tell you how many hours I spent in that tree. I learned to pay attention there, discovering one summer a family of rabbits making a home in the underbrush beneath the tree. I learned to listen to the songs of the birds and the sounds of squirrels skittering along the upper branches.
Occasionally I climbed higher. A short ways up my brothers had laid a couple of boards across the branches, making what we optimistically called a tree house. One day I climbed past that, climbing to the very top until I had no idea of how to get down. My neighbors with whom I played ran to get one of my brothers who coaxed me down.
Even with that trauma, the cedar tree was one of my favorite places to be. For an introverted, creative child, it was heaven. I made up stories in my head. I thought about life, however life looked to me at that age. It was my haven. No matter what else was going on, I could come to my tree. If one can be friends with a tree, we had a long and companionable friendship.
I’m not sure when it happened exactly. I’m thinking I was in college because I’d been gone long enough for it all to be done. At any rate, I came home and the tree - my tree - was gone. Some years before my parents swapped land with the school next door, trading a sliver of their land in the back for a sliver of the school’s land in the front, thereby preventing their curb appeal from being potentially diminished by a bus parking lot or some such thing.
Now the school owned my tree, and they had unceremoniously taken it down. I remember feeling devastated knowing that there was nothing left of it, no sign that it had ever been there. I longed to have just one small chunk of wood, one piece of it to keep like the blankie I had as a child. Even though I hadn't climbed it for years, I remember feeling lost knowing that my haven was no longer there. My sanctuary was gone.
We lose all kinds of havens. As I write, terrible storms have been pounding the middle of the US, and some families have seen the safe havens of their homes turned into matchsticks, the easy familiarity of their neighborhoods made strange by the devastated landscape.
We lose all kinds of safe havens. Maybe for you that have was a marriage or relationship, the comfort of knowing you were going to have that person to do life with you forever, that you weren’t going to have to face challenges and changes alone. Except now you are.
We lose all kinds of safe havens. Sometimes a church or faith community is the haven that helps us through, and sometimes it’s the haven that we lose. We lose it as the result of big, nasty congregational fights. And we lose it in quieter and equally painful ways when, through our own spiritual journey, the answers it provides no longer fits the questions we’re asking.
Whether a small safe haven or a profound one, life feels a little more unsettled and a little less dependable without it. That’s why we need a faith that’s big enough to trust with our questions. If your faith is kind of spiritual Jenga game where everything has to line up in orderly fashion, it will teeter and fall when the first block comes out. If your faith is a growing, living thing, however, it may lose a few leaves and look at bit battered at times but there is still a rootedness down deep. There’s something to come back to, even if it’s now growing in ways you didn’t plan.
Sometimes we get lost even in our safe havens, like me in the top of my tree. We feel so lost that we cannot begin to figure out which way to turn - or if we should be turning at all. It’s then that we need a community, the kind of friends who can hold faith for us when we can hold none for ourselves and who will hear our questions without having to have answers to them. We need people who will coax us through, reminding us of where the branches are, and we need people who will sit with us as we figure it out for ourselves, no matter how long it takes.
This week, consider what makes a safe haven for you. Listen to the nudgings of the Spirit as to how you might cultivate that for yourself and with others.