I had the opportunity to spend some time in the woods that bear John Muir’s name north of San Francisco. I wondered what would happen if we tugged so hard on growing our nearby cities if this beautiful wood so close to the metro Bay area. Would these giant trees, those towering redwoods fall to climate change? Already, we could see the remnants of the giants fallen. How many years had those trees been standing there, what had the seen, what could they tell us? Muir woods was dedicated by Teddy Roosevelt almost a century ago, more as a preserve for game than beauty. Those same trees stand there today. What would they tell us if they could speak their being? “Memory doesn’t come of the blue” writes Thomas Moore (in Enchantment of the Soul) “it requires a temple carefully built and maintained.”
Our temple is falling down.
If trees could speak from memory they would tell us they are broken, in fact, we are broken. We have lost the interconnection with all life as we are called to affirm in our last and seventh principle, ‘respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are apart’. The trees would re-mind, remember for us, that we are not so different than them.
All life springs from the same stuff, mother earth, human, humus, humility. All the same. Trees are often sacred simply because they can remember for us… not directly but as the symbols of it. If trees could talk they would tell us to take this much more seriously than we do. If trees could talk they would remember that we are extensions of them, walking, talking, acting, trees. Where we, like all life are sacred. Whales and men. Elephants and children. All of us are part of the stuff of stars. And that is what connects us to this day of memory. After this service we will remember those who have died, those who have left us for another dimension. Regardless of whether you believe in an afterlife at all, our memories endure, our lives endure in how they have affected the world in which we have spent our time. You see, even though trees fall, their energy endures, in the humus that they become in the new trees that are gone.
I received a card from a member who is not able to come most Sundays. It was a picture of the Redwoods and a simple note, “some things endure” the meaning of which I took to be his life’s work endures, our time together endures, we may change form but we are, and always have been part of the great web of existence.
Perhaps God, if such there be, hoped we would see the sacred in every living creature. The Garden of Eden not so much a place but a memory of how it was supposed to be. But at least once before we failed. And the Hebrews teach us that God forsook our world and built another kind of ark, an ark of survival, to float above the world washed clean. No ark can be built for us now. We are not going to float above our errors, this blue boat home is our only craft to sail the wide ocean universe, upon its infinite fathoms. The trees remind us that we too are rooted, even as we move, on this same fragile planet, sharing life as one.
“Dorothy Day said:
People say, what is the sense of our small effort,
They cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time.
A pebble cast into a pond causes ripples that spread in all directions.
Each one of our thoughts, words and deeds is like that.
No one has a right to sit down and feel hopeless.
There’s too much work to do. “
There is no such thing as a free lunch.”
The trees remember for us, but we must remember for them. What if we could actually live like we are all interconnected? What if this great recession was an opportunity to enliven a great expansion of concern? Avoiding box stores, shopping locally, buying as much of your food from home vendors. What if we started our own produce table right here? What if we gleaned our gardens and brought the food – whatever was in season – and put it up for the taking, a small monetary contribution to the church? What if we didn’t have a lawn? The trees survive, they always do. What if we lived in the earth as much as upon it?
We live on the earth and we are also so much a part of the earth, that is what endures. It’s not so much that we lived but rather what we did with the life that we had. It doesn’t have anything to do with God or heaven or hell. It has to do with life, the spirit of life, that makes us the same as the trees and this entire planet.
With Grace and Grit, John