Together, We are a Forest

Creation Time 2, Lectionary Reading for September 19, 2021; Psalm 1

My favourite place in the world is the Giant Cedars Boardwalk in Revelstoke National Park. I’m a bit of a tree nut (ha ha), so walking that short path through the ancient trees is a highlight every time we drive through the mountain parks. Right off the highway, it’s a place of wonder: 500-year-old trees towering overhead, the keystone in a precious ecosystem. Walking in this place feels sacred.

European colonialists saw the forests of the Americas, Africa, and Australia as a commodity. Capitalism asks, “how much money can I make by turning these trees into toilet paper?” But I think even the most hardened capitalist might soften after a quiet half-hour spent under the giant cedars. It’s impossible not to see the connections between living things if you spend time in a forest. At first, you might only notice that a certain kind of fern prefers to live at the base of the younger trees, and that another kind of moss thrives on fallen trees. But the more you look, the more you see. Scientists in the past decade or so have made stunning discoveries about trees and how they communicate, support and protect each other, and interact with other organisms in the forest. Indigenous people in many parts of the world have long understood the importance and sanctity of trees, and western science is just now catching up.

The writer of Psalm 1 compares the righteous to a tree planted by streams of water, and the comparison is fitting. When a tree has a generous water source, it thrives and grows strong and fruitful. What’s more, that strong and fruitful tree can share nutrients with other trees further from the stream, via a network of fungal strands in the soil. As children of God, we live and grow near streams of living water. The psalmist encourages us to meditate on the Lord’s law day and night so we may prosper.

If we loved our neighbours like trees love theirs, if we lived as a forest and not just as individual trees looking out for number 1, how would our communities change? Maria Gianferrari’s book Be a Tree shows that we have much to learn from our woody neighbours. We can protect each other, take care of one another, and support the natural world in which we live. This beautiful book teaches readers about the many fascinating things science has discovered about trees and draws parallels to our human lives. It’s a great opportunity to talk about how everything in God’s world is connected to everything else. When we love our neighbour, we nurture those connections and strengthen us all.

Questions to ask before you read:

  • What are some things you know about trees?
  • What are trees good for?
  • What do trees need to be healthy?

Questions to ask after you read:

  • How are people like trees?
  • How are families like forests? How are churches like forests?
  • What do you think it means for people to be planted near streams of water?

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