Redemption Through Trees
Nature’s Cycle of Birth and Rebirth
Written by Christina Miller on April 17, 2014 in General
Walking through the Redwood National Park in Northern California was like being invited into a sacred sanctuary. Light filtered through branches, footsteps cushioned on needles, and the air was clean and intoxicating. My voice quieted in reverence and I couldn’t help but tread slowly, trying not to impose or disrupt the redwoods’ worship.
As I followed the trail I stopped by a cluster of trees that had survived a fire. Periodically, sequoias have to undergo wildfire to burn away vegetation around them that is competing to absorb all the mineral-rich soil and sunlight. Burning away the life-threat is the only way to cultivate growth and reproduction. The trees were burned through their centers, causing them to split open with blistering wounds. I stepped inside the space that had formed in one of their trunks and pressed my hand against the rough flesh of its inner walls. New layers of wood had grown over the burns, sealing in the dark scars underneath. The signs of struggle had become part of its history—embedded into its surface—but new life had pushed through to heal it. Nature is full of cycles of birth, death, and renewal.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Jesus’ crucifixion began with killing a tree, the very symbol of these cycles of birth and rebirth in creation. Genesis begins with “the tree of knowledge of good and evil” whose fruit is the catalyst for separation from God. How quickly death becomes entangled in even the creation narrative. Throughout the Bible trees are symbols of people’s propensity towards life and death, either bearing healthy fruit or being diseased and in need of pruning. The book of Revelation ends with the image of “the tree of life” whose leaves are for the healing of the nations, naming our deepest and final longing. Through trees we see the tensions and hear the groans of all creation, eagerly waiting to be liberated from decay and brought into fullness of life in God.
It is through Jesus entering into the groans of creation and binding himself to death on a sacrificed tree, that all of creation is raised to new life. Through his death we receive the life-force that relentlessly keeps creating, healing, and beckoning all of creation to be made whole in God. Richard Rohr says, “The glory, patience, and humility of God is that God creates things that continue to create themselves—from the inner dynamism God has planted within them.” God has created us with the ability to keep growing, reforming, and reaching for life. Where there is the propensity towards death, life is stronger.
Easter reminds us that death is a necessary part of the life cycle, but it is not the end of the story. It reminds us of the maddening paradox that we have to die to be reborn, be stripped of the old to make way for the new, and surrender to gain. It tells us that life pushes through death, and pain leads to healing. Even the most burned, diseased, and decrepit trees can be reborn, surprising us with the potential for new life they still carry.
With the arrival of Easter, may we enter into our own sacred spaces with reverence, declaring that through Jesus’ death nothing can separate us from the love of God. The old has passed away, and we are new creations—complete with our scars and histories that speak to a force of life that always makes a way through.
Revelation 22:2, Genesis 2:17, Romans 8:18-22, Romans 8:38-39, 2 Corinthians 5:17, Isaiah 43:18-19