Celebrating with the Trees
September 22, 2020
There’s a yellow maple tree in our backyard. It was planted the year I was born by the people who built the house we now live in. The branches reach far and wide, covering a large portion of the yard with shade and beauty. There’s not a day that goes by that I am not grateful for the presence of this tree and the foresight of the people who planted it. My children swing from it, climb it, and collect fallen twigs for building fires. What we plant matters, even after we’ve moved on.
This month marks ten years since Bridge of Hope Harrisonburg-Rockingham began serving families. The vision of opening an affiliate in our community, shared by founding mothers Ann Yoder, Kathy Hochstedler, and Gretchen Maust, was realized with a lot of hard work and countless volunteer hours.
At our September board meeting we will reflect back on our ten year history, reminding ourselves of all that has been and how much there is to be grateful for. How may families have privileged us to walk alongside them. How many mothers’ life narratives have shifted. How many children’s futures have brightened. How many neighboring volunteers have been transformed by Love. And all of the hard work, patience, connection, faith, generosity, and hope that made it possible.
Recently I was struck by these words about how trees thrive in an interview with Richard Powers, author of The Overstory.
“But the fact that a Douglas fir and a birch might be sharing resources through fungal intermediaries really blows away this idea that we have, the sort of crude public understanding that it’s a jungle out there, by which we mean it’s every species for itself and every individual inside that species for itself. Once you begin to see how deep-seated cooperation is in the heart of all ecosystems, it’s almost embarrassing to have to own up to this idea that has filtered into social understanding, where competition is the only engine that’s going on out there, which of course would be ridiculous. I mean, to compete to the exclusion of the other living things in your ecosystem would be to die a very lonely death.
The fundamental notion of natural selection is still intact. But what’s the new appreciation, the ways in which the new appreciation has transformed that formula? It has to do with the realization that fittest for the environment doesn’t mean fittest for some sort of static set of energetics, a finite pool of energy that’s coming into a fixed system. The environment is other living things. So, the fittest organism for an environment is one that’s most fully and robustly and sustainably intertwined with the other living things in its location.”
We often say that no part of this work is done without a neighborhood effort. We are all functioning as part of our social ecosystem, and our investment in the lives of people around us is an investment in our own futures. And once again, I see the depth in Jesus’ call to love our neighbors as ourselves. He was calling us to be intertwined.
Years ago, I was invited to consider what it would meant to live in such a way that the trees would clap their hands with joy (Isaiah 55:12). Though it’s difficult to imagine, perhaps the starting point is simply understanding ourselves as part of a greater whole.