It occurred to me today that the live oaks were live. Aidan and I were sitting on the front steps of the church building while Lindsay practiced songs for the worship service inside.
Lindsay was tuning her pipes like a diva, but Aidan and I were taking in the morning like arthritic grandfathers. We leaned back in our chairs by the wall and looked happily, as if looking was all the travel we needed in this era of our old age. Missing was the dusty path, the seaside view, and the pitcher of cold ale—but Aidan and I reveled in our wakeful observation.
The two oaks were lime-green like spring saplings, and we wondered if they held an intelligence, a sylvan knowledge. Not that the trees were conscious, but if there was, perhaps, an ingrained, silent knowing—effortless and unthreatened by the cycle of years.
Aristotle was able to treat rocks dismissively because of their dense and static properties. “Nothing is that which rocks dream about,” he deadpanned. Yet of rocks, Jesus Christ said that in an extremity of need, even they would roll to their steepest apexes and “cry out” in worship, releasing audibly their monolithic knowledge of his glory.
But trees are not rocks. Oaks grow and lean and sway their leaves in the wind. Where there is growth and dynamic change, we cannot help wondering if there is a kind of knowing—a dormant, silent intelligence that waits. Something old and quite simple, but hidden: a dead language, maybe? A riddle about freedom and rest?
When you walk under a really huge tree, the canopy rustling above you, there is almost the sensation that the tree is speaking down to you from its height. The infant spiders on gossamer ropes, rappelling down from the branches, give a token physicality to the tree’s message. When you learn to drink deep, to rest in the soil, to lean to your source of sustenance with trust, you will find this rest too. This will be a respite that runs soul-deep.
Maybe this is why at times I feel so old and so young, so busy and so calm, when I walk beneath a tree: When I pass into the shade, I enter the patterns cast by faithful rest, feel the light descending from the fiery sun, and I remember that I am between two worlds.
In some ways, I think the trees can see further into faith and the glory of God than I can. Or if their vision is not great, it is their implicit trust I envy. What they know, what they see, they grow into, they embody. Their understanding is not wasted. I cannot say the same.
The trees grow down, reach up, make earth-art with our patron star. The steady touch of their leaves and roots is the ideal paint brush. They are artists who collaborate: they dance, they work with the wheeling sun, to create patterns of shifting shade, and Aidan and I speculate that the leafy dark patterns hold secrets like ancient runes. We wonder how to read a tree.
In the end we walk under the live, living oaks, and feel eternity’s back draft. We hover between the 60-hour work week and eternal, active rest. The trees know something about heaven that we do not, and nowadays we are suspended like the infant spiders, waiting but living, caught between now and the ultimate then.
We do not seem to be moving much, but we are on the way. The oaks tell us this much. Our souls mature slowly, but if they grow at all, it is Sun-ward. The deeper our rest in Christ, the more quickly we’ll reach our destination.