Category Archives: Advent

Rambling from roots to rest.

On the tail of my recent mention of trees and their strength, I was impressed by the tree roots in this collection of photos in The Guardian, “Root Force.” My wandering mind led me from there down this bloggy path to make the kind of word-thing that is too long because I didn’t have time to make it shorter.

Italian cypresses and giant oaks, pine trees with thick trunks arching over lawns — the neighborhood in which I’ve been walking the last few days is a good one for a tree-lover, but it’s fairly new (not 50 years old yet) and manicured, not the kind of place where one is likely to see trees who have managed to exert their wills in the way of this example from the article.

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This photo is compelling, and led me to search and find online many more cases of invasive tree roots, and I also know one firsthand. At my husband’s childhood home a steel post had been stuck in the earth to stake a young tree that, presumably while everyone was watching (whether out of the corners of their eyes, or faster than they could blink their eyes, I can’t say), grew up and around to swallow its supporting rod. But not completely; the top of the stake appeared to grow ungracefully out of the huge trunk.

Does it seem off topic, my telling you about  the tree trunk, not the root? We must remember that all the parts are connected.

What occurs to me is that to live on a piece of land, to have a house or gate or sidewalk which you essentially give over to a living plant, is to show a deference to nature or at least a willingness to co-exist even in the likelihood that you, the human, will be the one to relinquish something. Or does it show that everyone was too busy or lazy to care? Many times I have let smaller plants in my garden have their way, but I somewhat regret that I haven’t had enough trees in my life, or lived ages in one place, for this to happen with great woody specimens.

All the roots and trees passing by my eyes and through my mind this week bring me around to the Incarnation, the birth of Christ which we are celebrating. That’s because the most persistent and enduring life system, if you will, is the Root of Jesse, and the Branch that sprouted, mentioned in Isaiah 11. Iconographers have painted this flowing of our salvation history, and it is the inspiration for many other types of illustrations, like this dramatic interpretation by Ansgar Holmberg:

  https://i2.wp.com/www.stkate.edu/gallery/05-06/shows_06_womenlitur/images/large_photos/o_root_jesse.jpg

Some excerpts from the passage in Isaiah:

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.

They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.

And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious.

I am pleased to have arrived at a Christmastime theme, a history and reality that leads many of my friends to put up a Jesse Tree decoration during Advent. Christ is somehow the Root and the Branch and the whole Tree of Life. It’s just one of the ways that the metaphor of trees and roots and branches is used in the Bible to reveal God’s plans and ways to us. No wonder I love trees: I admire them for their strength and grace, but I am myself alive with the same sap that is the Source of all root and tree life.

My own preference for letting trees take over is a romantic and privileged one; I don’t live where hardwood forests perennially compete with farmers for every plot of soil, or where such things as Weed Trees can be talked about knowingly. We were told via Adam and Eve to have dominion over nature, which at the least means conserving it and managing it. A gate that can’t function as a gate because some roots have essentially ruined it is not a sign of good husbandry after all, though it makes a pretty picture. Other clashes that come to mind involve roots doing bad things to pipes; the play of humankind with  trees is not always artistic, because the design elements are always in flux.

Time is a factor you don’t want to ignore in this sort of interplay. So many people disregard it, not imagining what a nursery sapling might become in 20 years, roots and branches reaching out and down and to the sky. Living in the  moment doesn’t excuse us from the responsibility to plan for the future, taking into account the nature of living things to change and grow.

Even God plans, and caused His good will to be planted especially in the family of Jesse, the father of King David, from whose tribe our Savior blossomed forth. He had a very long-range perspective and intention, and we haven’t seen the end of it.

The imagery in The Guardian, and the language that connotes for me destruction and relinquishment, seem to contrast with the words of Isaiah quoted above. Nature will be at peace in the day of which the prophet speaks, and a great order will prevail because of the knowledge of the Lord. It will be a large space where all of God’s creation can function as intended, with plenty of room for partnership and concord between mankind and the rest of creation. What struck me most was that last line above: “His rest shall be glorious.”

I’ve been wanting to post again a link to the carol Jesus Christ the Apple Tree, in which we are appropriately encouraged in Christ to “sit and rest awhile.” I think it’s what I’ve been longing to say — and for that we don’t have to wait until Christmas.

I lighten up.

My favorite-ever Christmas lights are the ones that form a star on Gumbo Lily’s barn. The star shines in the spirit of Advent, I think, reminding us of the magi who journeyed, seeking the Christ child and following a star.

It’s very bright and bold out there on the dark prairie…who knows who all sees it? All her blog-readers can, and once I saw its picture my imagination was captured, and the thoughts and images in my mind have included it for three Christmases now. It’s perfectly simple and elegant, a bold yet humble announcement.

A week ago neither the Christmas spirit nor the Advent spirit could make a crack in my darkened mind. I had forgotten the inspiring prairie star, and the houses in my neighborhood that started lighting up before Thanksgiving accused me of being unchristian.

Last year was the first time we had ever put up lights outdoors, on a bush in the front yard. I was so happy! But since then we have cut down that bush, and until last week I never gave a thought to how it wouldn’t be there to hang lights on again. We are lazy decorators outdoors as well as in, so coming up with a new plan for showing our faith with lights was likely to take another 20 years.

I was ashamed of the darkness of our house. So I went to a big store and bought a star to put in the window. It’s much more humble than Gumbo Lily’s star; as people drive past our house at night I wonder if they will even glance up to the second story and notice it. At any rate, I have made my statement, however minimalist.

Now my excuse for low spirits is the increasingly daily ban on wood-burning. We are heading into the fourth day in a row of the law standing against us and our wood stove, on the side of air quality and healthy lungs. How petty that I would be in a funk about this, but there it is. I dug around in my candle drawer and discovered this oddly tall and bent red taper that I must have snatched from some grab bag years ago. I thought it would be o.k. to “waste” it tonight to make a little fire on the table near my computer.

Now I’m noticing how it doesn’t really coordinate with the orchid in the background….wait, did I say orchid? I did! I’ve been wanting to tell my orchid story for a couple of weeks but it never would make its own blog post so I’ll stick it in here where it doesn’t quite fit.

People have given me several orchids over the last couple of years, and when they stop blooming I try to put them in a darker place, if not exactly dark. Other than doing that, I forget what all I am supposed to do, to nurture them into blooming again.Three of these were sitting in the garage for several months, and when Spring came I took them outside so I could mostly ignore them on the patio all summer long. They don’t need much water so they didn’t die.

At the end of summer, though, along about October, I was sweeping leaves and generally cleaning up the back yard when I spied those three languishing orchids, and as I was in a ruthless mood, I decided to just throw them out. Whoever gave them to me would not want me to be burdened and annoyed by plants I don’t know how to grow.

BUT — as I grabbed the first one, I noticed a new leaf and a shiny green bud. The second one had a long shoot coming out horizontally, but it was obviously a flower stem with buds! And the third plant also had new growth. I was immediately convinced of their will to live, so I tidied them up and put all three on a plate that I can keep on a table somewhere in the house.

Quickly the one plant bloomed, and by this week it had three flowers. The other orchids are coming along nicely. I haven’t yet got some Christmas color in the house of my usual berries-and-greenery sort, but when I remember to look their way, these flowers cheer me up.

The babe leaped for joy.

 
 
This 14th-century wall painting in Timios Stavros Church in Cyprus shows the Forerunner John bowing before Jesus while yet in the womb.

Now Mary arose in those days and went into the hill country with haste, to a city of Judah, and entered the house of Zacharias and greeted Elizabeth. And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.

Then she spoke out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! But why is this granted to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For indeed, as soon as the voice of your greeting sounded in my ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord.”

Luke 1:39-45

Warm us up!

“Come unto Him and be enlightened, and your faces shall not be ashamed.” This line from a hymn at the close of Divine Liturgy this morning was being sung at the same time sunshine beaming through the window reflected off the floor and shined on me, blinding me for a few moments.

It was lovely to have a sunny morning for the beginning of our Nativity fast, and I was blessed to be free to participate. There weren’t many of us, so we fit easily into our little church, and the two women who were surprised to compose the whole choir did valiantly.

Our priest exhorted us to join together in zealousness, as the epistle reading from Colossians also conveyed to us the apostle’s prayer, that our hearts might “be encouraged, being knit together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

And he reminded us that just as the body cannot exist without the head, nor the head without the body, so Christ and His Church always go together, and in this Advent period we are helped by our joint efforts in making use of the gifts of fasting and prayer, to prepare our hearts to receive, in about 40 days, the mystery of God With Us.

I want to remember, I want to live by the reality of the light of Christ shining in my soul. When the light from the created sun is so thin that it doesn’t have much effect on my earthly body, it’s still an encouraging sight and teaches me about intangible realities. Dear God, warm us all up!