Saturday, December 31, 2005

Sequoia, old growth

Despite its sizeable population, 73% of Japan is uninhabited[1] due to the dangers posed by the volcanic Mt. Fuji and the torrent of the Pacific Ocean. As such, settlers have always looked for clues from nature as to where they ought to build. These are nature’s brail, communicating safety from itself.

Old trees are these clues.

The evergreen trees of Japan (akin to the Douglas Fir of British Columbia and the sequoia of Northern California), thrive in areas naturally sheltered from the rage of nature. But there is something odd about these giant trees. Because some reach over 300 feet high and 21 feet wide,[2] you may expect them to need a certain “personal space”, but sequoia grow fairly close together and are marked by an organic peculiarity.

The trees share their roots.[3]

They are connected to one another through their root systems. It is this interconnectedness that allows the sequoia to survive the wind and the ocean and the storms and volcanoes. The trees glean strength from one another. They are tied to one another, demonstrating to us all that what matters most is not our individuality but our interconnectedness. These trees have lived long enough to remember before the Common Era, the time of Christ, the Shogunate, and through history past the Second World War because they are connected to each other.

We must foster such connections. Our spirituality has to reach out even beyond other people and become an extension of love for all of creation. We must arrive at a new connection with nature, a new “understanding of the human/extrahuman relation [else] we leave the future to the conflicting ideologies of the extreme.”[4] Theologian Douglas John Hall remarks we have lost the “capacity of the Christian gospel to befriend creation and all earth’s creatures including humankind”[5] and Belden C. Lane reminds us that spirituality encompasses a “sense of transcendence [and] love of the earth.”[6] This we must all reclaim in our grasp for a “renewed vision, a story worth telling, and silence in the presence of mystery.”[7]

The testimony of sequoia reminds us that there is a “sacred relation to the earth involving reciprocity between people and planet.”[8] In our hearts we know that “litter and pollution are spiritual issues”[9] and that openness to God is, “first of all, openness to the God of all places,”[10] because we know we’re all in this together. This is not only the realm of geopiety, of loving God through loving earth, but extends to the realm of Biomimicry.[11] We allow the land to teach us about ourselves, our families, our species, and survival in the midst of assault; for, we are certainly doomed if we cannot commune with each other and the planet that sustains us.

Matsura Emoto, author of the spellbinding Hidden Messages in Water, notes that “humans are the only creatures that have the capacity to resonate with all other creatures and objects found in nature”,[12] that our role as stewards is more than just a role of caretaker, but also a role of accountability. We are made in the image of God[13] to live as His emissaries[14] and carriers of His holiness,[15] and the earth is our home. The earth is the place where His holiness is revealed through people and, as such, is a special place because it is the place of that revelation. The earth is sacred. We contribute, in some measure, to the “maintenance of order in the universe by occupying the place allocated to [us]”[16] and allow our imagination to sanctify the place in which we live as a place of memory, hope, and imagination.

This connection to our home is a spiritual connection, painful if broken, but holy when intact. “Our lives are set between expulsion and anticipation,” says Walter Brueggemann “of being uprooted and rerooted…dislocated because of impertinence and relocated in trust”[17] mirroring the nemawashi[18] but also reflecting the pain of separation from our relationships and connectedness.

It is with this in mind that we look to the elder trees, to the sentinels of correlationship, as monoliths of connection. They model lives of wide-spreading lateral roots that connect us. We must be connected to everyone and all of creation if we are to survive, for there is a storm coming, and we must hold each other to face it.

[1] Cf.
[2] Cf.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Hall, Douglas John. Bound and Free: A Theologian’s Journey (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2005), 99.
[5] Ibid, 85.
[6] Lane, Belden C. Landscapes of the Sacred: Georgraphy and Narrative in American Spirituality (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1988), 92.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid, 6.
[9] Bell, Rob. Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005), 158.
[10] Lane, Belden C. Landscapes of the Sacred: Georgraphy and Narrative in American Spirituality (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1988), 32.
[11] Biomimicry is a relatively new form of interdisciplinary research that maintains all important aspects of life can be learned from the examples supplied by creation. Cf.
[12] Emoto, Matsura. The Hidden Messages in Water (Hillsboro: Beyond Words, 2004), 51.
[13] Cf. Genesis 9.6, Acts 17.28
[14] Cf. 2 Corinthians 5.20
[15] Cf. Colossians 1.27, Colossians 3.9-10, Romans 3.21-22, 2 Corinthians 5.21
[16] Claude Levi-Strauss as quoted in Landscapes of the Sacred: Georgraphy and Narrative in American Spirituality (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1988), 14.
[17] Brueggemann, Walter. The Land: Place As Gift, Promise, and Challenge in Biblical Faith (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2002) 15-16.
[18] Cf. “Nemawashi, preparing to move” in the previous section of this paper.

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