Tree Stumps of Hope

Tree Stumps of Hope

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Rev. Dawn M. Adams is the minister of the First Congregational of Brimfield, UCC. She became much more interested in the way of trees when she and her husband, George, bought property in Maine after they sold their home to move into the parsonage.  For anyone interested in the surprising ways of trees like the information below, she recommends the book, The Hidden Lives of Trees: What they feel and how they communicate by Peter Wohlleben.






Scripture: Isaiah 11:1 (NRSV)

A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse,
   and a branch shall grow out of his roots.


Reflection: Tree Stumps of Hope

 

Symbols are powerful conveyors of information.  In one shape or image, entire ideas can be transmitted. In our faith, symbols like bread and juice, water, and the cross bring to mind life-altering stories. Likewise, Christmas offers its own set of symbols: stars and shepherds, angels and mangers. How often, though, do we think of a stump as a Christian or Christmas symbol? How often do we view a stump as a place of hope?

Stumps have an unfortunate association with death and decay. They bring to mind the inability to sustain life and imply impending deterioration and eventual disintegration. However, as this scripture shows us, stumps are not always the end and may instead be a place of new beginnings.

Even Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree reminds us that stumps have value. In his story, the little stump who was stripped of all its resources still has the strength and willpower to straighten itself up to be a seat for the boy who has now become an old man.

Stumps though can also be a catalyst for new life. When a tree is cut down, the trauma of that act can actually send the remaining tree into survival mode whereby multiple shoots are immediately sent out to begin a regeneration process.  In these cases, instead of having the one tree, one may soon have multiple hopeful sprigs rising from that place. Apparently this survival tactic is more common in deciduous trees than it is in conifers, but it is possible in conifers as well. In fact there is a fascinating story in Smithsonian Magazine about a Christmas tree farm whereby the stumps are never pulled out of the ground and new trees are never planted because the tree farmer uses an ancient harvesting practice called coppicing to grow his trees; that is, each successive generation of tree is actually not a new tree at all, but a shoot that grows from the stump.

In addition to these signs of new life shooting from what appears to be death, there is also some relatively new scientific evidence that stumps can actually live for a much longer time than we would expect given they have no branches and therefore no leaves or needles.  Although, trees have traditionally been seen as individual arboreal units, it seems that we are learning that they are actually part of a much more complex system that is connected by miles of mycorrhiza under the ground through which trees share resources. This means that while a stump cannot transpire nor photosynthesize, it can use the stores and resources of other trees in the area to live. Thanks to the work of Suzanne Simard and others, we have learned that trees have the capacity to care for one another and even communicate.

These interesting insights into stumps help us to see the miracle this unexpected symbol might offer. That is, hope persists in unexpected ways in unexpected places and at unexpected times. A stump, as this scripture implies, is not the end, but a place of possibility. Honestly, even those stumps that do begin to disintegrate nurture life in the form of mushrooms, fungi, beetles, and worms.

Perhaps with this new understanding of stumps, we may grasp a deeper understanding of the scripture’s intent; and indeed, they may become sacred symbols of Christianity and Christmas reminding us to hope and pay deep attention to how God may be at work.

May we all, this Advent and Christmas season, look for the surprising ways and places that God brings life and hope into the world.

PRAYER

God of life - - - We pray this season for eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to feel your presence in the world. When life feels undone and hopeless, grant us the ability to see beyond what we expect into what is. Press us to seek signs of you. As we begin to notice your work, may we begin to join you in your efforts.   May we always remember that you are working in ways that we are yet to fully understand.  AMEN

New Prayer Requests:

We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Marlene Gasdia-Cochrane at cochranem@sneucc.org.

Prayers of Intercession:

  • For the people of Ukraine whose lives continue to be shattered by war.
  • For those grieving or suffering due to the ~39,700 gun violence deaths in the US this year - including last week's tragedies where a  gunman killed five people and injured at least 25 others at an LGBTQ nightclub  in Colorado Springs, Colorado; and another shooting where 6 people were killed and others injured at a Walmart in Virginia. With these events, the US has recorded more than 600 mass shootings so far this year.
  • For the environment and the changing climate

Prayers of Joy and Thanksgiving:

  • For seed and soil, rain, trees, and stumps
  • For environmental justice ministries

 This Week in History:

December 1, 1955 (67 years ago): Rosa Parks is jailed for refusing to give up her seat on a public bus to a white man, a violation of the city’s racial segregation laws. [History] 

“Study the past if you would define the future.”
Confucius

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Dawn Adams

Dawn Adams is a member of the Immigration, Refugee and Asylum Task Team, and pastor of First Congregational Church of Brimfield, UCC (MA).

November 23, 2022
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