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The Legend of the Dogwood

The Legend of the Dogwood


Long ago, the trees spoke to us,

and we listened,

and treasured their lore and wisdom. 

After all,

woods and forests are ancient places,

giving life to creatures both great and small,

and many trees live longer than any of us individually. 


Every tree–

from great, towering redwoods,

tallest sentinels of the overstory of the forest… 

and smooth baobabs, with trunks as wide as elephants…

to graceful birches with their curling paper bark… 

to quivering stands of aspen…

to whispering pine…

and stubborn burr oak–

each of them reminds us

of the wisdom of community and generosity.


Every tree gives of itself,

shelter and shade,

habitat for birds and insects,

fruit and seed for food,

sap for sweetness,

even purifying the air that we breathe.


This story is from that time long ago

when we listened to the trees speak to us.

Today, dogwood trees

only grow in Europe, East Asia, and North America.

But ages ago, some have claimed

that the dogwood was a mighty tree,

with a broad straight trunk.

It was prized by carpenters everywhere,

especially around the Mediterranean. 


Ancient Israel was not known to have many large trees,

which is why buildings were often made

with cedars from Lebanon,

or acacia wood.


When the Romans invaded a country, 

they ruthlessly put down rebellions

by executing rebels on wooden crosses.


The trees hated being put to such uses.


Worst of all was when the Romans crucified Jesus. 

The trees wept at being forced to take part

in this terrible spectacle.

The tree that wept the loudest was the dogwood.

It cried out to God

to keep it from ever being used

in such a way

ever again.


And so God granted the dogwood’s wish. 


“Henceforth, O loving dogwood,

you will become part

of the understory of the forest.

Your wood will be twisty

and your trunk will be narrow.

You will bear flowers

of softest white, red, and pink.

You will be close to the earth,

and you will carpet the forest floor with beauty.


“Your flowers will tell the story

of Jesus’s resurrection.

Each year at Easter time,

you will burst forth with blooms

even while the other trees are bare.

Each bloom will be cruciform—

four petals in the shape of a cross.

“On the end of each petal

will be a mark,

to remind all who seen them

of the four wounds in Jesus’s hands and feet

just as the disciples saw long ago.

At the center of each bloom

will be Jesus’s crown of thorns,

now turned green and golden

as a sign of victory.”


And so it has remained to this day.


Each time we see a dogwood tree bloom in early spring,

we know that Easter is here,

and that Christ is risen.


The Rev. Leslie Scoopmire is a writer, musician, and a priest in the Diocese of Missouri. She is priest-in-charge of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Ellisville, MO.  She posts daily prayers at her blog Abiding In Hope, and collects spiritual writings and images at Poems, Psalms, and Prayers.



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