Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.’ Matthew 9:35-38
Dawn is breaking outside my window, a wash of soft orange that transforms the deep royal blue of night to shades of green and purple. As the sun creeps up to the horizon, the fingers of a nearby tree, now devoid of leaves, are gilded in gold light.
This is an ancient cottonwood growing in my neighbor’s yard, and I am looking at it from a second story window. I am at the height of the middle branches, all of which divide again and again in all possible directions reaching at last the tiniest little shoots which surround the whole tree like a cloud. Craning my head upward I see even more of these branch ends above, abundant as the drops of water in mist, all alight and sparkling, all reaching out into sky.
Here is an amazing thing. Each tiny little twig at the end of a branch has its own unique nature, different from all the rest. And each is at the same time part with all the others of the big breathing entity, the tree. I know that far below somewhere in the dark cold soil are other tendrils of a different nature, strange and mysterious, that reach out into earth, working to bring nutrients up from the ground. These root ends are also each unique, and at the same time each connected, part of the tree. And meanwhile, at the center of all these industrious little outward reaching tree parts is a thick trunk, shelled and hoary with spiderwebs, that joins earth, as it were, with heaven.
I have been thinking about today’s Gospel passage, about Jesus’ compassion for the crowds who come out to him because they are “harassed and helpless”. He says they are like sheep without a shepherd. Studying my neighbor’s tree, I think, “They are like twigs who do not know they are part of a tree.”
We are each like one of those little twigs at the end of branches, each unique, each reaching out into the sky in our own particular way. Over time we sprout and put out leaves, shoots, possibly fruit. Each of us have our particular talents and skills which we manifest to a greater or lesser degree.
Self-conscious little sprouts, we have a solid sense of ourselves. We interact as if we twigs are each individual things. We work, produce, rest and talk to one another, twig to twig, believing we are separate. We try to promote our individual branches over others, to the extent that we even try to lop off other limbs. And these days our reach is far, for we have developed electronics that can connect us to twigs clear on the other side of the tree.
What we miss is the fact we connected, part of one single living organism. We rest in God, who is the entire tree. While we cannot know God’s larger branches or the trunk of God, and while the roots are certainly very distant and beyond our ken, we can feel God’s presence in the sap that flows through us, and in the cells that make up our very being.
It’s a change of consciousness. It’s an abiding in Christ as Christ abides in God. And it is as true and solid as the nature of tree sprouts, and as incontrovertible.
This reverie abandons me as the sun’s gilding disappears. Now it is full day – a sunny, blue everyday late fall morning. In true twig-mode, I begin to make plans. I have to prepare for a meeting I am leading tomorrow, pay bills and get over to the grocery to do the week’s shopping. I am worried about my daughter’s upcoming back surgery, my faulty furnace and my friend’s depression.
But my morning reverie has changed something a little inside me. As I think about how I will spend my day I take a moment to consider. How will I manifest the awareness of being not just a twig but part of the tree today? How will the sweet sap of God ooze through me, and how will it help the twigs around me ground themselves in who they really are. Because, mixing metaphors now, that’s the harvest Jesus is talking about, I think. It’s us helping one another remember our treeness.
Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and liturgical artist, a writer and lay preacher living in Fort Collins, CO. See her work online at Everyday Mysteries With others she manages a website for the Diocese of Colorado highlighting congregations’ creative ministries: Fresh Expressions Colorado