I live in Portland. We are known for a lot of things: Beer, the world’s largest bookstore, hipsters, and last but not least, forests. 5 miles from my front door is Forest Park, a 5,000+ acre park of second-growth and old-growth forest, and over 70 miles of trails. It’s one of the most beautiful places you will ever go. The thing about being surround by such grandeur, such enormity, such beauty, is that I grow numb. I take it for granted. Much like I imagine folks in Arizona aren't quite as wowed by the Grand Canyon as the rest of the country. Or maybe they are, what do I know?
In my back yard, right outside of a rickety old sliding glass door, towering over my small home, is a pine tree. This pine tree is amazing. It hovers somewhere around 150 feet (I'm terrible at stuff like that. For all I know, it's 50 feet. whatever, that's not the point.) It provides a shady place to sit and read during the summer, and in the fall, its branches groan with the weight of one more Oregon rain. This past winter, a 30 foot long branch fell from halfway up the tree, so big that I couldn't begin to move it. It's a wonder. It's beautiful.
And I'm coming to realize lately, that tree knows Jesus better than I do.
There is something beautiful about the way that trees, dirt, rocks, fields, and oceans are all singing the praises of their creator. How they always, and all the time, are in a constant act of praise. Simply by being. There is never a time when they are detached from their maker. Never a time when their very existence is not the greatest sermon that could ever be preached on the love of God.
I was at the beach recently, and woke up early one morning, unable to sleep. Rather than lie in bed and try and fight staying awake, I decided to head down to the beach with a cup of coffee and a book. I needed to get away. I needed to listen to my creator speak.
As I was sitting in the sand, the crisp chill of an Oregon morning perfectly juxtaposed with the steaming cup of coffee in my hand, I stopped. I was trying to read His words, trying to study the scriptures as best as I could, but all I could think of was how I wanted to sit and listen to the waves. He was speaking to me, just not in the way I had planned. He was healing and freeing me, but in a radically different way than I would have imagined. The ocean was my pastor that morning, the waves my hymns, and the sand was my pew. It was a holy moment, one that I won't soon forget.
What on earth does this have to do with the pine tree? Quite a bit, actually.
That pine tree knows how to do one thing: stand firm. Stay planted. In the blazing sunlight, and the foot of snow we saw in February, that tree never once did anything other than what it was made by God to do. It's existence is a sermon on truth, grace, and love.
"But that tree doesn't have free will, people do, it can't rebel, we can, blah blah blah."
True. That tree can't consciously decide it wants to stop being a tree, or that it wants to rebel and fall over. And yes, in time, that tree will rot, it's limbs will get too heavy, and it will be cut down. But I don't think that's the point.
I think that every time I see one of those massive branches swaying in the wind, its the voice of God saying to me "this is how much I love you. This is how constant I can be in your life if you will only let me. This is my plan for you." There's something beautiful about that, isn't there?
There's a quote from one of my favorite books of all time, Blue Like Jazz, that has always resonated with me. It's about wind and water, but he could just as easily be referring to my pine tree.
"I once listened to an Indian on television say that God was in the wind and the water, and I wondered at how beautiful that was because it meant you could swim in Him or have Him brush your face in a breeze. I am early in my story, but I believe I will stretch out into eternity, and in heaven I will reflect upon these early days, these days when it seemed that God was down a dirt road, walking toward me. Years ago he was a swinging speck in the distance; now He is close enough I can hear his singing. Soon i will see the lines on his face."
I am early in my story, but I will know Jesus like that someday.