Thinking Theologically About Trees
How might we think theologically about trees?
Well to begin, we might ask how we think theologically about anything?
That requires some careful work involving a kind of dialogue between our interpretation of Scripture, wisdom from our tradition, our personal experience and some synthesis from the world. Research about trees is not static but has expanded drastically in recent years, as the intricate and complex movement within the soil ecosystem (considered a form of communication) is better known. What’s more the growing field of traditional ecological knowledge is drawing wisdom from indigenous traditions alongside western science to regularly reveal new insights. All of this has its place and we do well to read widely and reflect on it all! But in the first instance, theological reflection on trees must explore how trees reveal something of God.
In this series of short videos, I have attempted to do just that. To offer a few brief (and by no way exhaustive) theological reflections about trees – these beautiful creatures, icons of God’s goodness in Creation. Trees which are so often the site of divine encounter in the Hebrew Bible (consider Abraham, Gideon, Elijah) and which are pictured – in the great scene of cosmic wholeness at the end of Revelation – as giving their fruits in every season and offering their leaves for the healing of the nations. How do these images of Scripture move into our world – in which trees have been so exhaustively cut and harvested as resources for human development?
In my context as an educator for A Rocha Canada, I often write about sustainability and regularly marvel at the trees in my neighbourhood and watershed. Meanwhile, the public battle continues over cutting the last of the old growth trees on Vancouver Island. I do not wish to downplay the whole array of concerns we must consider here – the social, political, economic, and ecological health of our ecosystems requires careful discernment and wise stewardship. But in this short series, I wanted to dig one level deeper than that to probe how we might think theologically about trees and how this might bring a fresh perspective.
The contemporary poet Mary Oliver writes,
“When I am among the trees, especially the willows and the honey locust, equally the beech, the oaks and the pines, they give off such hints of gladness. I would almost say that they save me, and daily.”
This experience is perhaps one that you too have known when you spend some time among the trees of your place. I hope you’ll watch this short series and begin to think afresh with me on trees as an essential and beautiful part of God’s good world.