The world watched in horror as part of an island in paradise went up in flames. How many people thought “Not in Hawaii! Especially not–Maui!” Now the town of Lahaina looks like death, grey and lifeless at every turn except for the 150-year old Banyan Tree, charred, yet still alive and standing.
According to npr.org, they were only 8 feet tall when planted in 1873 in celebration of the 50th anniversary of Lahaina’s first Protestant mission. Now they are over 60 feet tall, encompassing an entire city block.
What is it about trees that we adore, hide under and lean on? It’s like they serve as a type of protector, a shade from the heat, a place for kids to climb and escape the responsibility of adulthood. We can’t live without them, and mourn when they fall.
In her opening foreword to Steve Carter’s The Thing Beneath the Thing, Ann Voskamp writes about the mystery surrounding what caused a kauri tree to fall in a New Zealand forest. They can reach 168 feet tall. And the question mark intensified when ecologist Sebastian Leuzinger discovered something miraculous coming out of that same dead kauri tree stump when he randomly walked upon it: sap. It was a miracle because sap doesn’t run through dead trees. (pages XI-XII)
Although Voskamp wrote her foreword around 2021, way before the 2023 Maui tragedy, her words can still provide hope today for the people of Lahaina and for you and me:
“Sense it right now, wherever you unexpectedly find yourself: you are not alone. No matter what things look like, no matter what looks dead, no matter what seems like a stump of all kinds of dreams: you’re going to rise from the floor. Deep underneath that New Zealand forest floor, where no one could see, there was a great grafting weave of roots, a great dance of water flowing, renewing, reviving, restoring. Deep beneath the surface of things, there can be a dance of entwined roots, there can be an intimate connection of giving and sharing resources and supporting. You are not alone.” (page XIII)
I remember feeling alone after my words were rejected again at another writers’ conference in 2008, in Santa Cruz, California. Fortunately, the itinerary allowed for some free time. Marcus, a friend I met at the conference said, “Let’s go see the California Redwoods.” Off we went.
He drove us to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, fifteen minutes from the Mount Hermon conference center. God’s creation amazed me, forty acres of towering redwood trees. You can’t be around those trees and not look up. Some were over 300 feet tall. God used the excursion to encourage me.
That night, back in my room I emptied myself in journal #34. “I wish my faith was strong like the Redwoods. They are tall, robust, and hearty. Their limbs pierce the sky reaching toward God, willing to embrace Him one more time.”
And God uses trees like a metaphor many times in the scriptures to provide hope:
“Wisdom is a tree of life to those who embrace her; happy are those who hold her tightly.” (Proverbs 3:18, NLT)
“Gentle words are a tree of life; a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.” (Proverbs 15:4, NLT)
“Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the Lord., meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.” (Psalm 1:1-3, NLT)
We do stand back and admire trees standing tall, strong, independent and alone. But are they alone? When we notice two or more people who never separate themselves from each other, we laugh and say they are joined at the hip–inseparable. However, we don’t see how trees are connected.
Voskamp continues, “Walk through the forest, and each tree may look like it’s standing alone-but beneath the earth are roots grafted together into community. You are not alone. Forests are made of more than independent trees–forests are made of dependent roots. Trees only stand independent because they’re rooted in a shared dependence.” (page XIV)
We need each other and God. Who doesn’t cry when they see folks standing together in a crisis, holding hands and praying. How will the people of Lahaina make it? Together. How do you and I endure parched memories? Like a tree, reach your hands to the sky, to God in faith, but don’t forget to also link with your fellow pilgrims, who are also on a journey. Your neighbors and total strangers need your roots of faith so they don’t feel alone.
Reach out, connect and link.
Banyan Tree pictures courtesy of pexels.com and The New York Times. Hand pictures courtesy of pexels.com