Trees: Spiritual symbols of life

Published on August 8, 2014
Shortts Lake resident Don Murray will host a book launching Truro this weekend. The retired United Church minister has penned his third book. Sherry Martell – Truro Daily News

A Word to the Spiritual Seekers, by Don Murray

The crab apple tree stood tall and full at the bottom of the field below the barn. Behind it lay other fields and pastures leaving it a lone tree silhouetted against the sky. 


One summer day, when I was four or five, I was standing at the end of the barn looking down across the fields. The crabapple tree glowed with the sun shining upon its leaves. A bird, probably a crow, circled above it. I was transfixed in wonderment. I don’t know how long the bird circled as I stood there mesmerized, but long enough to be etched in my memory.  


I had no words to describe my experience and I don’t think I ever mentioned it to anyone. I have never been much of a mystic, but that was a definite moment of oneness and communion with the beauty and awesomeness of it all. Perhaps, in that moment, I was awakened to something profound about trees. Trees have spoken to me several times in my life and a lone tree always stirs something in me. 


My experience was not unique. Humanity has long been aware of the importance of trees, both in themselves and as symbols of spiritual values. A tree stands as a magnificent symbol of the elemental life force that permeates our universe. Its roots dig themselves deep into the earth that the tree may draw nourishment as it reaches skyward with the abundance of its life-giving foliage.  


According to my old Crudence Concordance the word “tree” appears in the Bible 199 times. Trees appear at every stage of the biblical story.  However, space limits me to mentioning only the first and the last biblical scenes; mythic stories marking the awakening of human consciousness (Eve) and its ultimate fulfillment in the new heaven and new earth of Revelation.


In the first creation story trees are created on the third day. In the second creation story, “out of the ground God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:9).”


Eve, with the serpent’s nudging, “saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, (so) she took of its fruit and ate” (Genesis 3:6). So begins the story of humanity’s journey toward maturity.  Being fully conscious and mature is a life-long, history-long, project. Our thanks to our mythic mother Eve for bravely taking that first step into consciousness. Unfortunately we still have a long way to go.


In the Garden of Eden story, Eve and Adam, having gained the first glimmerings of consciousness, are evicted from the garden lest they “take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever (Genesis 3:22). God seems intimidated by these newly conscious creatures that “he” has created. But that is another story.


The final scene of the Bible is very different. After the horrendous mythic struggles of Revelation, humanity finally comes to wholeness. Now we see “the river of the water of life” and “on either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” This is a wondrous tree. And rather than being kept from its abundance, all are invited, “let everyone .... come” (Revelation 22:1-2, 17). 


At four years old I didn’t know about trees as mythic symbols of life. Nor did I know that they are such symbols for the good reason that without the chlorophyl in their leaves there would be no life. However, my childhood experience affirmed what humanity, at some intuitive level, has always known. Trees are of the essence of life. Our communion with trees makes us one with the earth and the great mystery in which, “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).


Columns are made by fools like me, but only God – the creative energy of the universe – can make a tree. (Apologies to Joyce Kilmer).


Don Murray is a retired United church minister. He lives in Shortts Lake.