“Then the trees of the forest will sing, they will sing for joy before the LORD, for he comes to judge the earth.”
I read this as part of my Divine Hours reading back in September, and thought about how they already sing for joy when the wind whirls through their branches. In the summer the leaves flip their underbellies to the sun. I used to think that meant a storm was coming. All that pale green twittering set me on edge, as if I was sensitive as the horses, with a storm way out beyond the horizon. Poplars will jiggle their leaves like women shaking their breasts.
Of course the trees clap their hands by changing color in the fall, and the wind becomes deeper as it roars through bare branches. The wood creaks and squeals. The woods are not always safe for riding when the winds are high. Once, Tessie startled when a tree branch dropped. Horses like to run in the wind, but Tessie’s nerves steady us both and she doesn’t go far, but I’m always uneasy in the wind buffeting us, urging us to run, to lift up our hearts and legs, and leave the ground, if only for the middle of a stride.
I think about how the Psalmist compares good men and women to trees planted by water. How their roots sink deep and they are not easily moved. Jesus explains that being good means actually doing the work of love. He says that is like a foundation set on solid rock.
But simply reading, “Love God, Love your neighbor,”or simply agreeing that maybe this kind of love is a good idea, isn’t enough. I wonder if people who walked down the aisle at an evangelistic crusade, and called it good, thinking they are in good with God, are as “good” with Him as they think, especially if they don’t practice loving God, loving their neighbor. But then again who does love God, love their neighbor well enough to be this good person who sinks their roots deep, like trees beside water? I sure as heck don’t.
Just this summer we went to a funeral of a person who frightened me. In fact he was so scary, so well versed in saying mean things that stuck like deep splinters, Bruce and I avoided him. But then again he avoided us. But his family did not avoid him and I saw, I saw how loved he was, and heard about his good deeds–how he fathered some impressive young people, worked hard for the church, practiced being a good friend, lived out carpe diem.
I saw the real work of love and humanity in how people loved him despite his being difficult. I saw the truth of the story about the field full of wheat and weeds, and how the Farmer said don’t tear out the weeds until the harvest, when they will be combined and kicked out the back of the machine, well, and, burned. (Modern farmers bale those cornstalks and use chemical to weed. My metaphor has broken. In the Bible story those weeds are burned. There’s part of me that looks forward to the weeds in me being burned up–the chronic fear, the cup of insecurity, the self centeredness.) Already at this funeral I catch a glimpse of this man who frightened me, cleaned up, radiant with love.
Unlike the tree by water, the psalmist says the people are like the grass burned up in the wake of burning sunlight, the grass brown and crispy, our time here so short. But even trees burn up without water. We lost our barnyard well and twenty-five pine trees during the drought a few years back. Bruce has been cutting them down one by one. I was glad to see the trees fall that stood in front of our windows because the view echoes the view from my home in New York, the white pines at the top of the road, where I’d look to see who might be coming. Stumps continue to knot the ground. And Bruce is tired from all the work.
There are trees I love on our farm: the huge elm tree that over shadows the barn and pony. How rare it is to survive when Dutch Elm disease turned Chicago neighborhoods into boring brick streets. I think about the story Po Bronson tells about a huge elm tree in Michigan what survived because a bull had wrapped a chain deep into its flesh. The iron stopped the fungus. The tree with its deep scar and iron chain girdling it stands for a man whose wife fought for their marriage and saved him.
A woven wire fence was tacked onto our tree, a fence that we eventually replaced with horse fence that Morgen has since bent to reach the grass on the other side. I watch the shadows dapple our barn roof and think how lucky we are that this tree lives here. The shadows dapple Morgen when she eats.
The linden tree was smuggled to the farm from Germany before World War II. A woman tucked it in her boot and planted it by our house to remember. My parents planted a Japanese Larch to mark my brother’s birth and a mountain ash to mark mine. The mountain ash only gave us berries at the end of our time with that farm.
Then there is the tree I look to every morning, every evening, whenever I walk to the barn. It marks my days and even my author page. I watch how the light and seasons combs it. Even though I’m not plowing or harvesting, I sight in that tree, and try to make my days straight.
The trees will sing for joy when He comes to judge the earth. What will their song be? Will oaks sound different than lindens? Will apples sound different than elms? Will their voices frighten us or lift us up like an agile child scampering into the branches? But I wonder too, will we sing for joy, when God comes to judge or will we crawl into the mountains, crying for them to topple, for fear?
It’s those trees, as they sing to God when he comes to judge, that began our story–the tree of knowledge of good and evil that we couldn’t resist; the tree of life, an angel’s sword swept down, so we couldn’t touch. The tree of life became something different, a heavy log, torture. Jesus. At the end of time, there will be trees planted along a river, with fruit that will blossom every month, for healing the nations. But maybe those trees as they sing to God when he comes to judge, will reach into those caves, call us out to joy.