And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ – Matthew 28:18-20
Last summer I saw, for the first time, a portion of the old growth redwood forest in Northern California. The trees there are enormous and ancient, some over 1500 years old. We learned that the giant trees both create and live in four separate ecosystems at once. In their highest branches is a tumultuous world of high winds, fierce sunlight, and severe storms. Animals and plants live up there that have never, in their entire lifetimes, visited the ground. Zoologists surmise that among them are species completely unknown to us because we have never seen them.
The next ecosystem is a more protected realm among the trees’ lower branches. This arboreal world is still far above the forest’s understory, because the lowest branches on giant redwoods are often at least 100 feet high. Birds and flying squirrels, mosses and insects of many varieties live in these branches. Though they sometimes come down to earth, they hunt, mate and sleep far out of our reach above.
At the ground level of the forest is the third ecosystem. It is a dark and well-protected world in which a profound silence underscores every sound. Big and small mammals make their lives here, along with birds that nest in the understory or on the ground, and an entirely different profusion of insects from those above. Where there is light other species of tree, fern and bush grow thick. Where the redwoods’ high branches block the sun, one can walk on the soft cushion of fallen needles and gaze up, impossibly far, along the mossy trunks of the old trees.
The fourth ecosystem is below the ground, among the roots of the trees and other plants that carpet the forest floor. Here insects and plants, small mammals and reptiles eat and mate and die.
We human beings are like these great breathing beings that create worlds by their very presence. We, too, exist in many realms simultaneously. Beyond our ego consciousness, the realm in which we think we live exclusively, there is much, much more of each of us, something that is huge and very ancient. It knows the blind world below the earth and the wild chaos of the heavens. It knows its relationship with the entire forest of other beings, those like it and those not, breathing with it or fallen, and so its awareness is grounding, expansive, and inclusive.
It is to this part of us that Jesus speaks when he says, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” In our silent, mammoth beings, we know this to be true, absolutely. Our roots in the soil of life understand completely. Our tiniest branches dance with the awareness. The great towering bulk of us resonates with the words. For we know in this bigger-than-ego aspect that we are all completely and forever connected. We are one thing as the forest itself is one thing. And that which connects us is Christ.
The element that enfolds and unites us is love. We bathe in it like our little needles bask in the sun; we are embraced in it like our tiny white roots nestle in the rich earth. We breathe one another in and out like air, and the impetus, the awareness, the meaning is Christ.
Let us wake up to our full selves, then. And from that place let us reach out to others, making disciples, baptizing and teaching. All authority in heaven and on earth is in the love that permeates us. Let us recognize it and be whole.
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.