God, Trees and New Beginnings
By Winn Collier
December 31, 2009
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.