Maybe it has to do with the stark endurance of this year’s winter, but I’ve been looking a lot at the trees. There is a certain strangeness about trees. We can trace their silhouettes as they appear on our horizons, in all their varieties of shape and size and species. They are like constant witnesses, standing gloriously still or moving with the music of the wind; stretching forth branches in grace as they point us to the sky.
Yesterday the trees shone in an unexpected moment of afternoon sun and the whole world seemed transformed and suddenly golden. Trees can help us to see. Sometimes they are landmarks, showing us the way. But also they can show us things. They can work with the sun by day and the moon at night time to pave the earth with dappled light. A tree can display, in the delicate balance of slender limbs, a covering of the whitest of snow. A tree can reveal, in the perfect poise of an uncurled leaf, a world of brilliant light within the span of a tiny rain drop.
With the generosity of the seasons, as they blossom and flourish and mature, trees can colour our view. They offer shelter and bear fruit, and their very substance can be planed and carved and sculpted to form new creations. The fine tree that sprang from the apple planted by Diggory in Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew was made into a wardrobe; and ‘That was the beginning of all the comings and going between Narnia and our world’.
Heaney wrote about the letters of an alphabet that were trees. In the Ogham script used in medieval Irish, each letter was ascribed the name of a tree. Maybe that’s what Heaney had in mind. But the idea of an alphabet made from trees is worth considering. Alphabets help us make sense of things. The letters of an alphabet are the very basic elements of learning, yet together give expression to the wonder and complexities of human experience. Like stories, alphabets have a beginning and an ending; alphabets are complete.
The great Biblical story of Redemption begins and ends with the Tree of Life. Humanity was estranged from this tree in Eden but it is restored to us again in John’s apocalyptic vision of the Holy City. This is a beautiful vision, for it is the eternal dwelling place of God with man. It is a vision of hope, for there is no death or mourning or crying or pain there. And in that vision ‘the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations’.