God, Trees and New Beginnings
By Winn Collier
December 31, 2009
I remember the first time my wife Miska and I drove up from Denver into the Rocky Mountains to take in the autumn colors. Summer had given way, and winter was closing in. The long lines of white aspens stood tall, like a disciplined battalion prepared for a change of the guard. Aspen-white never looks as vivid as when it holds out gold leaves for the world to see. The crisp air, the rugged ridge lines, the wild beauty of it all—such a time and place allow us to hear things we might miss most anywhere else.
A change of season is about as routine as it gets. Best I know, it has happened four times a year, like clockwork, as long as humans have been able to keep track of such things. But each time winter yields to spring, each time summer whispers to us that fall will soon arrive, nature is telling us a story. Nature is telling us the story of a God who is always creating, always remaking, forever crafting new beginnings. No matter how dry the sultry dog days of summer, no matter how bitter the winter death, new beauty, new life is always coming. It is only a matter of time.
The psalmist echoes the story nature tells. He describes people who are being formed by God as trees “planted by streams of water, which yield [their] fruit in season ...” (Psalm 1:3, TNIV). The psalmist does not live in denial of the hardship or the scarcity enmeshed with human experience. No collection of writings takes pain and disillusionment more seriously than the Psalms. However, the psalmist knows something else, something more dependable than the certainty of human turmoil. The psalmist knows God; the psalmist knows God’s story, that God is always creating, always remaking, forever crafting new beginnings. With God and God’s people, there will always be a new season, where life is infused and fruit blossoms. With God, there is always a fresh beginning.
From Scripture’s first pages all the way to the final word, God is offered as one who is creating and redeeming. Genesis gets right to it, showing God as He brings newness and life out of darkness and chaos. When Jesus arrives on the scene, redemption is a catchword for His mission. Jesus did not come to earth in order to show us how bad a shape we were in just before He finished us off. Jesus came to allow us to begin again. In Revelation where the concluding images of God’s world are painted, everything is new and has been restored. Like Psalms, there is even a tree, but with this tree, fruit is always in season. No more scarcity or lack. No more sorrow. It’s as if we have returned to the garden, starting over at the very place where everything went so terribly wrong.
It is important to remember that this fresh life God creates is not first something external. It is something that happens inside us, hidden to the human eye. Before we see the earliest spring blossom, life has long been at work under the brittle brown earth. Because we don’t see fresh hope and life erupting from us or because we don’t see (or feel) newness stirring around us, we often mistakenly believe that God is dormant. Nothing is further from the truth. God’s first concern is not what He wants us to do. God’s first concern is who He will make us to be. And this is invisible work, deep in the dirt of our soul.Each year, the turning calendar grants us another symbol of God’s story. It encourages us to remember that God is active, and it prods us to give ourselves to the hope of a fresh beginning. We must allow ourselves to listen to the truth and to believe it. God is good, and God is at work. It might be invisible now, but He is at work. One of January’s gifts is its insistence that we consider what fresh thing God might be up to. It nudges us to abandon cynicism and to give ourselves to faith, to the anticipation that God might actually be crafting something we cannot see.
We often miss God’s activity because we are looking in the wrong place. We think God is most concerned with what we are most concerned with—the relationship we want fixed or the career we want to get on track or the vision of our life we are committed to fulfilling. So January comes and resolutions take shape, but by April, little has changed—and we believe God has done nothing. We must remember that what God is up to is far more dangerous, far more radical than what we envision. G.K. Chesterton reminds us, “The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul.” God is making us into a deep-rooted tree. He is busy bringing our heart to life. It’s crazy how easy it is to miss it.
I have missed it numerous times. However, once, I didn’t. I was witness to a miracle. I saw a woman come to life.
Miska and I moved to Denver in order for Miska to go to graduate school. She began an intense two-year program preparing her for work in the art of counseling and spiritual direction. Before we loaded up the Penske moving truck in Florida, we didn’t have many of the details in place—like where we would work or how we would eat—but we knew this was a trip we had to take. The move to Denver wasn’t about a change in geography but about a change of the soul. Miska’s two years were beautiful, painful years. Miska cried many tears, good tears. Wounds that had never properly mended were re-opened, and lies that had long assaulted her bared their fangs. But my wife is one courageous woman. She allowed good friends and the power of truth to push past her walls and her hiding. She allowed grace to pierce her deeply. It’s a brave thing to open your heart to such rawness, and she opened her heart wide.
Sometime during those two years, I remember telling Miska that I felt like I was seeing her blossom, as if she were coming to life. I was madly in love with the Miska I married, but the Miska she was becoming—it was intriguing and compelling. And I was amazed by it. A couple of years ago, a friend painted Miska a picture. It is a tree, fiery golden, sturdy and alive. It isn’t an aspen, but it tells the same story those autumn-drenched aspens tell. I don’t know if our friend knew how the image speaks to Miska, but for Miska, a tree symbolizes the work God is doing in her, the work of bringing beauty and life into her world, of planting her in firm soil and calling her to blossom in her world. The picture hangs in our living room, and it is a reminder that God is always creating, always remaking, forever crafting new beginnings.
This article originally appeared in Radiant magazine.