COLUMN: Bridging the divide, finding hope
For a long time I wasn’t sure how to begin this reflection.
After a week when we have seen the worst in humanity rear its ugly head again, this time in the plans and actions of a young man who drove to a multicultural neighborhood of Buffalo to shoot and kill as many black and brown people as he could, I wasn’t sure what to say.
What do we say when we are left speechless in the face of pure evil?
Often we are left speechless, numb, unable to respond once again to the latest mass shooting. As others took to social media, I stayed away, unsure if that was the place for real dialogue or change to take place. As a colleague of mine said recently, we all just seem to be shouting past each other into the void. Forming a sermon to share a few words of hope each week is sometimes the outer limit of what I can do.
Then I came across the story of a tree in my home state of Washington, a Sitka spruce perched precariously on an ocean bluff, the ground below it worn away by a waterfall just behind it and the pounding ocean waves just before it. As the natural forces of erosion have changed the landscape and completely erased the ground below this tree, it continues on, straddling the gap that widens each year, roots hanging down, clinging to both sides with great tenacity and determination. I don’t know if trees actually can feel these emotions, but I imagine they can.
It has become known locally as the Tree of Life, in tribute to the way that life continues and persists even in the face of great change and great adversity. It has even become a local attraction, so that tourists who come to the town of Forks for “Twilight”-related sightseeing and the Olympic Peninsula for the rainforests and mountains and beaches are now also invited to visit the Tree of Life.
Religious or not, spiritual or not, people are finding meaning and hope in this symbol of nature.
It reminds them that life is stronger than death, that the forces of life and creativity go on even when threats and challenges emerge. And even though this tree is on the other side of the continent, I think it can speak words of hope to us who are mourning and struggling here in this state. God speaks through creation to literally ground us, to remind us that even when evil and hate threaten to undermine us, we are called to be rooted in divine love and mercy.
Those roots can bridge the divisions in our world. This particular tree happens to now be bridging this gap in the land, uniting and linking the sides of the ravine as they gradually diverge from each other.
When we are rooted in divine love and mercy, fed and filled by God’s Holy Spirit, we too can become the bridges rather than the ravines or the walls. We can be part of God’s plan to stitch the world together and mend and heal it after this time of intense fragmentation and disintegration.
The Tree of Life is not only a real tree — it’s an important symbol in many different religions and spiritualities, including Christianity. Perhaps today it can show us how to weave together our loose threads, cling to what sustains us all, and rebuild the bonds of love for the whole human family.
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