Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Climbing the Tree of Life

As a boy I was a climber of trees. I guess most boys are. While growing up, my favorite spot on earth was high in an old pine or oak. At my grandfather's house in New Hampshire, I built a tree house (actually just a platform made of a few planks) as high as I could in a tall white pine. I envied the Swiss Family Robinson and Tarzan, because they got to live in trees.

In Sunday School, my favorite Bible story was about Zacchaeus, the little guy who climbed the sycamore tree to get a glimpse of Jesus. Later on the story became even more meaningful when I learned that Christ climbed another type of "tree" to save me from a Fall. (Galatians 3:13)

The Garden of Eden also fascinated me. The storybooks always pictured the serpent entwined around a sturdy branch on the Tree of the Knowledge offering Eve some fruit. At some point during my Christian education, I must have made a comment about wanting to join the snake. For I remember being sternly warned that the serpent was "bad," and I should not want to be anywhere near him. Too bad, I thought. He had the best seat in the garden.

The Book of Revelation ends the way Genesis begins - with the Tree of Life. This wondrous tree in the New Jerusalem is much better than the old Edenic variety. It is no longer a solitary tree in the middle of a garden. In New Earth, the Tree of Life grows on both sides of the River of Life that flows from the throne of God. "The Tree of Life was planted on each side of the River, producing twelve kinds of fruit, a ripe fruit each month. The leaves of the Tree are for healing the nations" (22:2).

I once read that largest single living organism on earth is an aspen tree in Utah. It is known as Pando or the Trembling Giant. It appears to be many trees, but is in fact one massive root system with many trunks. This "tree" weighs over six thousand tons. It is considered by some to be the oldest single living organism on earth, having an estimated age of eighty thousand years. That is how I picture the Tree of Life in the garden of New Earth.

Robert Frost wrote a poem entitled "Birches." He reflects on seeing white birches in New Hampshire leaning unnaturally toward the ground. He writes: "I like to think some boy's been swinging them. / But swinging doesn't bend them down to stay. / Ice-storms do that."

So when you get to heaven and are walking along the streets of gold by the riverside, you may see some branches of the Tree of Life that look as if some boy's been swinging on them. If you see such a tree, look high into the highest branches. You may discover that I got there before you and have found the perfect spot. To paraphrase Frost's closing line: One could do worse than be a climber of trees.

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