I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth’s flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
– Joyce Kilmer. 1886–1918
I had a teacher in high school who regularly derided this poem as the worst example of poetry ever distributed in the English language. Others with far less critical bent probably feel blessed! In any case, the poem came to mind as I thought about the recent (7/21) removal of the oak tree at the northwest corner of our church property—right beside our parking lot exit!
On the one hand, it was a sad day—it was an impressive tree in many respects. I measured the stump and found that it was abut 66” in diameter—my wife would just reach from one side to the other if she lay on it! I did a quick count of the rings, at least as far as I could make them out, and I estimate it was 110-120 years old, probably beginning around 1900!
On the other hand, it was a major problem! I am not talking annoyance because of the bushel baskets of leaves we had to clean up each fall. I am talking about the major danger presented by trying to exit our parking lot with that huge trunk limiting vision of oncoming traffic. That was enough to make it so no one I have talked to is lamenting its departure! It became a menace. How does something ancient become antagonizing?
When it sprouted, it may have been near a dirt track in an area known as Roeskeyville. The sapling was no threat to anyone. Over time, pavement came and the name “Coolspring Avenue” was assigned to the road and the tree became part of a right of way owned by the Town of Trail Creek. Ultimately, the building for Evergreen Baptist Church was built and the tree became part of that campus.
Now the tree became literally a “growing problem.” It is a wonder that there have not been accidents as people exited the parking lot, often making left turns onto Coolspring Ave.
Then, on a Sunday night in July, covered with lush green leaves, one major (about 18” diameter) branch broke and bent to the ground, though still connected to the tree. A tree company examined it and determined the tree was rotten in the core and it was taken down.
At the time I reflected on Facebook about the issue of appearing healthy to onlookers but being rotten at the core—that is why we must keep our hearts with all diligence (Prov. 4:23). But there is another lesson we should learn as well.
For all the analogies we can make with the strength, beauty and blessing of a tree, we aren’t trees. Human beings are designed by God to grow while in motion. The older we get, the more standing still becomes more and more attractive.
It was that very fact—the immobility of the tree— that made it a growing menace over time. It had no ability to adapt to the changes wrought by time all around it. Over time it became an obstacle, not an inspiration. In spite of the beauty and dignity of its age, it is not lamented!
We are not trees and the very things the poem uses to personify a tree are the things that should keep us from stagnating. To “look to God all day” results in active service and transformed temperament. To raise our arms and pray keeps us thinking, dreaming, asking and striving—living expectantly! As those made in the image of God, we were made to be animated, not stagnated. A tree becomes more immobile with every passing year. A godly servant of God should be just the opposite!
As I grow older, I am more and more aware of the need to keep moving and not become a stumbling block that hides what is coming in the future from those around me. By faith, I hope to move toward the future in growth and confidence as genuine spiritual maturity must do, holding out the truth of God’s Word and the confidence of faith in the unchanging God, even as His Spirit changes me! Perilous times are part of the package of last days living; they are not an excuse for decreased faithfulness on the part of God’s people.
May we learn all the lessons of the creation around us while maintaining a trajectory of growth in motion as long as God gives life!