Some Musings on Four Trees

We just put up our “tree” for this season. It carries more weight this year since we have been without this ritual for the last two holiday seasons. Our tree was fresh cut – by hand – by friends – for us – from the Colorado forest. Now I have not reflected at great depth on this, but this tree represents many layers of experience, e.g. history, tradition, celebration, relationships, church, nostalgia…food. Yet, for me a profound aspect of the “Christmas Tree”, or first tree, is what it is supposed to represent. An evergreen symbolizes stability – something that lasts. However, my experience is marked by the tree’s removal and disposal every year. Oh well, so much for stability and security. (Funny how difficult it is to get these trees to stand up!) The point is it poorly represents the secure hope my soul longs for. Nevertheless, it does remind me for a moment.

In trying to return to some “order” and “stability” after 9/11, I am also trying to regain a sense of comfort. I believe we confuse “answers” for truth. The result of which is to empty out our souls and live in torment. (Isaiah 50:11) NASB

The second tree is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen. 2:9). Eve and Adam were beguiled by its offer of “divinity” – to know, to be in control…to secure the future, to be god. This illusion of control has plagued us ever since, in that we continue to seek peace and calmness through control! This is an elusive process only popularized by the denial of reality that we are not vulnerable, and that we can eradicate all evil from our experience!

Well…God intervenes in this process, by preventing us from continuing on perpetually in our delusion. He removes us from access to the third tree. (Gen. 3:22) This third tree is the Tree of Life, not spoken of often in Scripture, yet it is the very thing we were created to experience – LIFE! There remains a profound mystery here. Why do we continue to choose mastery/control (second tree) over mystery/faith (third tree)? This still puzzles and draws us to the fourth tree: the Easter Tree, the “tree” on which Jesus died.

I suspect that Easter is the holiday of choice for those who believe.

A friend tells of an experience in Europe a few years ago where he wanted to celebrate Easter, and a local national asked him where he was going. When informed, the local did not know what Easter was, much less why one would engage in celebration.

Most of us don’t like paradox because we want to resolve the tension instantly. Click To Tweet

This tree is filled with paradox and is difficult to understand. The word paradox literally means, “beyond what is thought”. Nothing of the cross makes sense unless we move “beyond thought” into paradox. Here are some of the contradictions: the God of Love surrenders to violence; power chooses powerlessness; the response to hatred is forgiveness; an ignominious sign of death becomes the symbol of Life Everlasting.

Most of us don’t like paradox because we want to resolve the tension instantly. This is why we have meetings in which first somebody proposes one side of the issue and then someone else the other. The tension mounts for a few minutes and then there is a vote called for to get the tension over with. We vote, 51% win by telling the other 49% where to get off, and the 49% spend the next decade undermining the decision we thought we had made – all because we don’t know how to hold on to the tension.

The cross cannot be understood theoretically. Paradoxes are not understood so much as lived. The cross is not just something that happened in the past: it is a way to live in the present as we wait for full access to the third tree, the Tree of Life. Salvation is more than an event; it’s a way of living in ever greater fidelity to the truth that each of us is sinner and saint, not sinner or saint. Reconciliation is holding these counterpoints in creative tension while affirming the truth of each. In every experience of the cross, we affirm that neither part of the contradiction rules out the other. Together both parts constitute truth/meaning.

Maybe Richard Rohr’s conclusion in “Everything Belongs”, illustrates just how this fourth tree bears on the “tension” in our lives: “The price we pay for holding together these opposites, is always some form of crucifixion. Jesus was crucified between the good thief and the bad thief; hanging between heaven and earth; holding onto both his humanity and His divinity; expelled as the problem by both religion and state. He rejected none of these, but “reconciled all things in Himself”. (Eph. 2:10)

Somehow, this Christmas season, living beyond what is thought may help us to really LIVE! Being reconcilers in our own world and holding on to the tension that faith demands, settles our souls in a way nothing of this world – governments, money, power, control, tradition, ritual, success, can ever provide. In paradox, certainty is always illusive, while mystery becomes almost tangible. Thank you Jesus for coming and finishing this mystery, this good news that alone sustains us in this marred world.