A Delight to the Mind and Soul – Mark Ditmanson reflects on what the lives of trees can teach us about living within creation.
Care for Creation Reflection on the Revised Common Lectionary
Thank you to the EcoFaith Network of the ELCA’s Northeastern Minnesota Synod for providing a reflection on this week’s lectionary readings. You can learn more about what they do and subscribe to their monthly newsletter here. Our regular commentary series will resume on February 27th, with the Transfiguration of Our Lord.
Readings for the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, Year C (2022, 2025)
1 Corinthians 15:12-20
Jeremiah 17:8 and Psalm 1 are favorites for me. As I plant trees or tend the ones in my garden I am reminded of these words. When I climb to an overlook and can see the telltale dark green line of cedar tops winding their way in the canopy of the trees, indicating the stream below, I think of these passages. Thinking of the trees sending out roots by the streams of good water invites us to feel the connection to God that we all need. The image of a tree is of something enduring in any land and among every people. The Psalm in particular gives that sense. But the mention of the streams of water signals that even the strength of the tree is vulnerable.
The tree cannot exist on its own. The trees obviously need the nourishing moisture just as we need the nourishing presence of God. We cannot exist on our own. Without enough water the tree is weakened, stressed too long and the enduring tree will die. Without that same nourishing “stream” we are like a shrub in the desert. What an image to contemplate. This past year we have heard of and witnessed terrible droughts followed by tragic wildfires across the globe. Our hearts go out to those who have lost homes and loved ones in California and Colorado and other places. In the northern forests of Minnesota and Canada we have seen many instances of drought and fire. Even in areas where we were spared a fire, we can see the ill effect on many trees. And I fear for them, and I grieve those that have been lost.
I feel that the trees are my kin. We are earthlings together. I’d like to say that we need each other; but the truth is that we need trees more than they need us. And so, I am very grateful to them. There is so much wisdom we gain from trees. There are these beautiful scriptural images, poetic proverbs of our reliance on God of course. But there also more recent ecological studies that have revealed (epiphany?) how trees are interconnected, communicate, and cooperate. The studies revealing the amazing symbioses trees have with fungi, microbes, and other species ought to give everyone pause to marvel at God’s handiwork never before understood so deeply. Most of these relationships occur under the living soil, while more happen on the surface of the trees and leaves. The intricate enmeshing of life forms reveals that all earthlings need each other, and that God obviously brought all this into a shared pattern of being. Living together, seeking harmony, and finding mutual benefit are the truths these epiphanies in forests reveal.
These epiphanies are a delight to the mind and soul. The life of trees is something to meditate on day and night. And God has provided not only an image in a book for us to meditate upon, God provides the trees that sequester carbon, shade grazing lands, provide oxygen, and renew our spirits simply by walking among them.
Mark Ditmanson is pastor at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Grand Marais, MN. In his spare time he is a hobby beekeeper, planter of trees, provider of swamp milkweed for monarchs, and a gardener. He also serves on the leadership team of the EcoFaith Network NE MN Synod.
Originally written by Mark Ditmanson in 2022.