The Paradox of Christianity, or Wandering Tree Remains

Of the myriad thoughts which have bounced around in my head lately, an urge to change the name of this blog has surfaced and warrants consideration.  On my “About” page, I describe myself as “the tree who has troubling standing still,” but since I have decided to settle, spiritually, in Christianity, and now, I think, as a member of the Episcopal Church- well, the desire to have a name more “rooted,” so to speak, has entered my thoughts.

A moment of recap might be necessary.  Over the past few months, I have been trying to find a new church to call “home.”  I became disenchanted with my church, for a number of reasons, mostly through my own prejudices and rationalizations, as I soon realized, but distance was also a primary factor and I longed to find a church closer to my house.  This led to a reassessment of the denomination I had called home for three years- I am not a cradle Episcopalian, so the exploration seemed reasonable.  I checked out a number of churches with a wide number of approaches.  However, I love the liturgy of the church, and find time at the Table a necessary part of my celebration of Christ.  In addition, my decision to leave Emmanuel Episcopal had nothing to do with the welcome and love I received from the congregation.  This, in fact, was what made it so hard to leave.  And so, after wandering into the Church of the Ascension– an Episcopal Church much closer to me, and receiving the same type of welcome- well, that was it.  I think the Episcopal Church will have to put up with me for while.

Anyway, back to the name change.  Could I really say I was still “wandering”?  The implication of that word connotes a lack of direction, an aimless meandering.  Someone who has “wanderlust” has a strong impulse to travel, and what good is that word if you want to feel that you have arrived?

The addition of the word “tree” might be an appeal to balance this sense of wandering- a rooted fixture in the earth, which is moved only by great disturbance.  But in reality, it seems only to add to the confusion, and maintain a sense of paradox.  Trees don’t wander.  No one expects them to.

Ah, but then comes the reminder.  The reminder of an insight I had a few years ago.  The Christ-centered life is itself a paradox, and therein lays the beauty and mystery of the faith.  Inherent in Christianity is the unexpected.

To wit:  A Virgin gives birth.  God becomes Man.  Death on the cross leads to life.  Water changes into wine.  Fishermen become the disciples of the Rabbi.  Blind men see.  The crippled walk.  Five loaves of bread and two fish feed five thousand people.  The last become first.  Love wins.

Nobody expected any of that.  We expect catastrophe and hurt.  The catastrophe in Haiti is devastating, but we expect that in this hurting world.  What we marvel at even more, however, is the outpouring of help and aid and support, and the images of neighbor helping neighbor.  A selfish world wakes up and becomes giving.  That’s what is unexpected.  We are not used to seeing it on a scale that rivals destruction.  Tolkien called it the “eucatastrophe”- the sudden, unexpected turn to good, the serendipitous event.

And Tolkien, as well as a couple of other well known authors, incorporated trees into the unexpected as well.  Saruman never expected the Ents to revolt against Isengard, or that Fangorn would awake to consume the forces of evil.  He thought Shakespeare did not go far enough in Macbeth when “Great Birnham Wood” was prophesized to rise up against Macbeth (turning out to be the illusion of Siward’s forces camouflaging themselves).  Lewis has the trees dance around Aslan in Prince Caspian and the movie has a wonderful sequence of the trees defending the Narnians against the Telemarines.

There are other wonderful paradoxes inherent in trees as well.  They stand silent, but for many centuries we have used their fiber on which to etch thousands of stories with ink.  We have used them to communicate, to create, to express, to reveal.

The last paradox is the most important of all.  When one finds Christ, it is only the beginning of a journey.  There the true search begins, for once we are found, it is our commitment to “come and see.”  We are not meant to sit but follow.  We are not meant to wait but “go out into the world.”

So the name stays.  Wandering Tree remains.  At times a cedar in Lebanon, at times a withered fig tree, at times a fruitful tree in the center of a garden.  But at all times, hopefully, conscious of the wind, the Spirit, which rustles its branches.  And I have not arrived, not yet.  There is still much “wandering” to be done.  But the Land is not barren, and every step I take has meaning.

A lingering question- do you have a blog?  If so, why did you choose the name you gave it?  Have you ever wanted to change the name of your blog?  Why?  Post your response in comments!

Feast of St. Francis

I am sitting at Stardust Cafe in Orlando reflecting on this saint, happy to have met his acquaintance though it seems like too long a time had passed before I stumbled upon him in my search.  I got up early this morning to journey down to my church, Emmanuel Episcopal, for the Blessing of the Animals.  In the courtyard of Emmanuel about a dozen cats, dogs, and birds meowed, barked, or twittered as Father Malcolm took us through a short service, which included singing “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” a prayer for all of creation and especially our “animal companions,” and the Prayer of St. Francis.  He doused us all with Holy Water, wishing goodwill and peace to pets and people alike.

It was a pleasant reminder of our need to care and protect, honor and worship God and His creation.

I can think of no better sum up of St. Francis and what he was about than quote G.K. Chesterton:

“Now for St. Francis nothing was ever in the background,” he wrote. “We might say that his mind had no background, except perhaps that divine darkness out of which the divine love had called up every coloured creature one by one. He saw everything as dramatic, distinct from its setting, not all of a piece like a picture but in action like a play. A bird went by him like an arrow; something with a story and a purpose, though it was a purpose of life and not a purpose of death. A bush could stop him like a brigand; and indeed he was as ready to welcome the brigand as the bush.

“In a word, we talk about a man who cannot see the wood for the trees. St. Francis was a man who did not want to see the wood for the trees. He wanted to see each tree as a separate and almost a sacred thing, being a child of God and therefore a brother or sister of man.”

Though Francis lived and died around the 13th Century, his life still resonates to us in the 21st.  I think he would have stopped to ask us “Why do you frantically build, instead of build up?”  Our current environmental issues need the guidance and inspiration of a saint like Francis.

But rather than point fingers and prop Francis up as an example contrary to our culture’s shortcomings, let us rather take his example and time today to look into the eyes of a fellow creature here on earth, human or otherwise, and see light of God in all.

Please click on the link to donate to:  the SPCA of Central Florida