Advent Week 2: Peace
Psalm 1:1-3, NRSV
Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
I have seen lots of trees in my life from the majestic Redwoods in Northern California, the Black Forest trees in the Dakotas to the familiar Pine trees of my native Georgia. But there are three trees I think of when I hear this passage. In my childhood yard, there is a Dogwood that is still standing. I used to love to watch that tree bloom and see the life that came around it in the Spring. Since I grew up next to the lake this passage made sense to me as a boy about being firmly rooted like the Dogwood in my yard. That tree is resilient to winds and lawnmower accidents!
The other trees are the trees I see in my imagination every time I go outside at night and look up into the night sky. I imagine the stars making a constellation of the mythic trees in the Garden of Eden story. These two trees serve as iconoclastic reminders of our place in life in this the sacral universe to which all life on this planet belongs. One tree is of course the tree of life which is always both in reach and out of reach at the same time in the order of the sacral universe. The second is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—a tree we are indeed all familiar with! However, usually this tree gets notoriety for being ‘evil’, but this is only half of the value. When Adam and Eve ate of this tree they ‘became’ a part of both trees in all of its beauty and terror…they became alive, responsible and contributing! This myth records the birth of desire as theologian Scott Holland reminds us. Desire and longing—the very point of the Advent of the Christ!
Have you ever noticed a tree up close? Delicate, deadly, competitive, hard and sturdy. On the bark a tree houses everything from insects to parasites and bacteria to poison. Contrary to folklore, moss grows all the way around some trees! Under the soil the roots both feed the soil as well as ‘take from the soil and moisture around it’. Birds of all kinds nest in a tree…Thrashers, Bluebirds, Orioles, Hawks and Falcons. Woodpeckers come and eat insects. Worms eat the foliage. Some trees produce the fruit of poison, others the fruits we love to eat and others still the fruit of the air we breathe. The symbiosis of life and the dance of good and evil occur every day in the long life of a tree. Maybe that is one inspiration behind the psalmist allegory of a tree to describe a blessed human being. Perhaps we can think of the mythic trees in Genesis as the universe that we belong too! We are a part of the radical rootedness, the trunk, the branches, the leaves. Maybe just maybe the symbol of a tree can hold all of life predator and prey, the rhythm of seasons, life and death, good and evil, desire and longing.
The psalmist claims blessed the one who delights in the ‘law of the Lord’. Ask yourself this Advent what the ‘Law of the Lord’ is? There is much debate over what the ‘Law of the Lord’ is. Whatever your conclusion, hear the psalmist pronounce that we are ‘blessed’. Ultimately, the text serves to invite us to our transformation—to an even deeper part of life in God in the sacral universe.
Prayer: Creator God, help me in this advent season, as I consider all that is happening in the world around us, not to be overwhelmed by the evil in the world. Instead, help me to see the things in your blessed creation that give life, that provide rootedness, that nourish the soul.
Action: Take a moment to consider what it is you desire and long for in this Advent season?
David Carnish is Associate Manager of CPE at Penn State University.