|Here's me — a tiny, insignificant being — standing |
inside a living thing that was itself once tiny and insignificant.
This weekend was no exception. During my first hike of the season — an amazing eight-mile trek through deep forest alongside a rushing mountain stream, decorated with crashing waterfalls and moss-covered boulders — I came across the massive, ancient tree pictured at right. The tree was obviously still alive, but it was so enormous and so old that the inside of its trunk had hollowed out over the years. High up in the air were live branches, sustained by the thickness of the tree's walls, which still provided a pathway to the roots.
Inside the hollow trunk was an almost cavernous shelter. Someone could have easily camped out in there. I probably would have wanted to if my hiking buddies had been staying overnight.
Two thoughts came to mind during my encounter with this tree:
- How tiny, insignificant, and fleeting must I be if I can stand inside a tree that not only dwarfs me, but was around long before I existed, and most likely will still be there long after I'm gone?
- How does something so enormous, majestic, and ancient result from a tiny, fragile seed that could have been washed away, burned, or otherwise vanquished by forces of nature hundreds of years ago?
I sometimes privately bemoan how mundane my life feels — how today often seems like a replica of yesterday, and how significant, memorable events and progress often appear to be overshadowed by banality.
|Another mammoth tree on the other side of|
the trail — no hollowed-out trunk, but
Why daily life can feel so fleeting, so insignificant — just like the way I felt under that tree.
Which brings me back to the discussion of the seed. The tree in question certainly didn't become a pillar of the forest overnight. Its height, strength, beauty, imposing stature, and majesty were not achieved in days. Or months. Or years. Or decades. Centuries ago, it started off the way any other tree does — as a seed that sprouted into a life form that was long vulnerable to the elements and easily could have been wiped out. There was no physical evidence of the giant it was to become. On the surface, it was tiny. Insignificant. Fleeting.
In nature, beauty and fulfillment don't take shape quickly. Neither do they in our lives. In either case, both develop over a long, arduous process whose outcome is never precisely known, and whose journey is often marked by intense difficulty and pain. The old tree in the forest has its share of scars — a hollowed-out interior; some warped, cracked bark; some insect damage. But no one who appreciates nature can deny that it is now a thing of profound beauty, scars and all, created and shaped by forces bigger than us. So it is with our lives.
The Bible makes a lot of references to sowing seeds, but the Scripture that came to mind for me almost immediately as I considered this post was Jesus' Parable of the Sower, which is one of several parables he tells involving seeds in the Gospel:
A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, multiplying thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times.Like the fragile seed of a tree vulnerable to the unforgiving forces of nature, so, too, are our physical, emotional, and spiritual lives if we seek strength and fulfillment from the wrong places. And like that same seed, we don't know exactly who or what we'll grow to become, or how long it will take to get there, or what challenges we'll face along the way. But like the seed, we know that immeasurable beauty is in store for us, if we find physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual nurture from the right sources. This parable makes that clear:
This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain — first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.I can dwell on life's tedium, or its disappointments, unexpected outcomes, failures, or apparent stagnancy. But none of that really matters. It would be foolish to judge the tree I photographed on Saturday's hike based upon how long it took to achieve its present grandeur — or the seasons it endured along the way. Current circumstances don't matter in the long run. Where you find your strength, hope, and fulfillment does.
For me, that's a deeply liberating thought.