Stop, and See the Trees

Every tree has a story to tell, if we’ll stop and ponder—try to understand.

“Hearing you will hear, and shall not understand;
And seeing you will see, and not perceive;
For the hearts of this people have grown dull.
Their ears are hard of hearing,

And their eyes they have closed. Acts 28:26-27

Swaningson Lone Cone

There’s an old saying—“I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.” It has to do with not being able to see the big picture because you are focused on the one or two things right in front of you. And those things  become your overwhelming concern. But I think it works the other way as well, we often can’t see the trees for the forest.

When I’m hiking down a mountain trail in my beloved Beartooths, surrounded by majestic trees, brush and undergrowth where it all seems like one or two large brush strokes of shades of green and grey have just been tossed onto a canvas just to block the view of what’s behind it, I am often struck by the sight of a single tree that may stand out to me for one reason or another. I like to look at the trees.

It may be a huge ancient looking Ponderosa that seems to be so much larger than those around it, and I stop to ponder how this tree survived when all its contemporaries apparently did not.

Was it the sole survivor of a fire? Or was it just a lone tree, a seed from a pine cone that a now long dead squirrel had for lunch one day, that took root here in a high mountain meadow that became the nurse tree of what would eventually become a forest?

Or I’ll puzzle at the strange kinks and bends in what should be an arrow straight Lodgepole pine and try to imagine what traumatic event this tree survived to be twisted such as it is. Or the great Douglas fir that seems so full and sturdy that turns out to be two trees that have grown so close together that they appear to be one.

Or the stand—offish Quaking Aspen that, with numerous others of it’s kind, has taken over a bare spot that seemed fit only for rocks and wildflowers otherwise, creating a quivering spectacle of shimmering leaves as the breeze makes the copse come to life in brilliant contrast to the stoic still pines beyond.

I love the high mountain trees because the extreme environment they grow in creates such unique and interesting configurations in many of the trees, in what from a distance just appears as a uniform carpet of green waiting with outstretched branches to receive their yearly blanket of brilliantly white, crystalline snow.

Every tree has a story to tell, if we’ll stop and ponder—try to understand.

Such is God’s word, and the ways of the Holy Spirit and his prophets. We, as God’s people can become so immersed in the forest of his word, the lessons, the promises and the warnings, both written, spoken and impressed on our hearts, that we no longer see and hear the import of the things that are spoken to us, and for us, as individuals and as a people.

Things that we need to focus on here and now. and not just say, “well isn’t that something”, and move on, forgetting what we just heard or saw as we just keep blundering ahead, blissfully ignorant and unmoved by the majesty around us. Or perhaps even annoyed at the obstacles of deadfall and rocks or the discomfort of dew dampened shoes and the maddening whine of mosquitos and deerflies, hoping to get through the forest to wherever it is we think we need to get to on the other side of this woods.

“I know where I’m going. I don’t need to be bothered by any of this, or wonder if I missed a turn somewhere. There’s a quiet lake and a fishing pole waiting for me up ahead. Don’t distract me!”

“What, did you say something? Who are you anyways? Get out of my way!”

The Lord warns against this dangerous attitude:

“The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your ancestors through the prophet Isaiah,

 ‘Go to this people and say,
You will indeed listen, but never understand,
    and you will indeed look, but never perceive.
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
    and their ears are hard of hearing,
        and they have shut their eyes;
        so that they might not look with their eyes,
    and listen with their ears,
and understand with their heart and turn—
    and I would heal them.

Acts 28:26—27 NRSV

“I’ve seen it all and heard it all, and I’m fine.

No, you’re not. You were supposed to sit on that rock back there under that big Ponderosa and let the Spirit of God reveal to your heart just were it is you’re supposed to be going next, and what it is you might need to be letting him work on in your heart.

Swaningson Be Still

You need to stop, and remember why you started walking through this forest in the first place. And while you’re here, ponder why that lodgepole is bent like a bow, and how it survived the crushing snowfall or the wind sheer that nearly broke it, and how it managed to keep growing and pointed back toward heaven again.

You need to understand how that Doug fir is stronger because it is paired to another and what made all those trees lying on the ground— that you have to keep stepping over—fall. Seek to understand why are they dead and fallen in the first place.

And consider what makes that Aspen tree unique even though it seems lost in a crowd of others who all seem to be trying to get noticed. Yet for all their efforts look just like the trees next to them. And notice the treasures that grow among the broken granite beneath their quivering limbs, the short lived Columbine, the delicate mountain daisy and the glorious Indian Paintbrush.

Swaningson Mountain Daisy

Look at the trees and consider that our God knows the story of each and every one and the richness of the life they influence, enrich and even enable. And be encouraged.

Because, says the Lord, when I look out at my blessed creation and see all my beautiful children, I don’t see a sea of humanity, arms lifted to me for uniform blessings, I don’t see a distant sick forest of trees being overtaken by dying Pine beetle infested trees slowly dying off. I see you.

I see you striving and reaching, seeking the sunlight as the shadows threaten to overtake, clinging to the precious and thin top soil as the winds threaten to uproot, and desiring to be one who is strong enough to nurse others along into straight healthy individual creations, whom together are a beautiful sight.

I see you as the beautiful and unique creation that you are even when you feel like you are invisible, lost in a delirious blur of shining leaves that you think you must be an integral and conformed part of to be accepted.

I see you as beautiful, says the Lord. But never more beautiful in my sight than when I see you looking back at me—when it’s just the two of us—you seeking understanding and actually hearing what it is I would say to you. Just—

Be still, and know that I am God… Psalm 46:10

When you do that, says the Lord, then you will turn and find your healing, then you will be as an oak of righteousness planted by streams of living waters. Then you can see the forest again for what it is, a beautiful living kingdom of which you are a precious and essential part.

When you look into my eyes, unashamed and unhurried, then you will understand. Then your despair will turn to joy.

Swaningson MN Woods

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