Beloved Members of St. Martin’s,
We do not think of trees as newsworthy, perhaps because they are organisms that are rooted in place. It’s not correct to say they don’t move—if you’ve ever seen quaking aspens, or the maple trees in my childhood front yard the time a tornado flew over our house and landed the next block over, you’d know better. But it is true that trees generally occupy one locale.
That is why some trees become iconic, even symbolic, to a certain place or time. The effect of the gift of Sakura, or cherry trees, from the people of Japan to our nation’s capitol in 1912 creates a tourism season each spring as they bloom. The local weather man, around this time of year, includes tips about the peak autumn foliage season for viewing.
But in the last few weeks, two trees have made it into the international news.
In the terrible wildfires that struck Maui in late summer, the destruction was devastating. In the town of Lahaina, a massive Indian banyan tree that had just celebrated the 150th anniversary of its planting was feared lost, but a month after the fires were extinguished, arborists reported signs of life among its roots, giving the recovering community a sign of hope that they can rally around, something to tend and care for as a sign of life among so much loss and devastation.
And then, in late September, an iconic sycamore tree planted hundreds of years ago near Hadrian’s Wall in northern England, one of the most photographed trees in all of the United Kingdom, was felled in a random act of vandalism. The tree had stood sentinel over and gave the name of “Sycamore Gap” to a large gap in the cliffs Hadrian’s Wall spans for decades. It is the subject of at least one beautiful poem about permanence. It had appeared in movies. People had gotten engaged there. Loved ones’ ashes had been scattered under its canopy. It was a sacred space in a secular location.
Just as Saint Martin’s is.
Yet there is hope for this tree, although it has been cut down, for the life of a tree, just like the banyan in Lahaina, is centered in its roots. And so the lovers of this tree wait anxiously for spring, to see if new growth may appear in coppiced form.
In the beautiful poetry of the Book of Job, Job muses upon the transitory nature of human life:
“For there is hope for a tree,
if it is cut down, that it will sprout again,
and that its shoots will not cease.
Though its root grows old in the earth,
and its stump dies in the ground,
yet at the scent of water it will bud
and put forth branches like a young plant.”—Job 14:7-9, NRSV
Just like St. Martin’s. The life of this parish is in its roots. We exist in this place, and in this time, but we bear forward the dreams and prayers of the generations who came before us and planted us here in this part of West County. We have been the site of weddings. Our columbarium is the sacred resting place for dozens of our beloveds, making beloved ground also sacred ground. We have endured changes, and losses, weathered storms, even a pandemic—and emerged resilient.
As you continue in prayer and discernment regarding your commitment to St. Martin’s, I pray that you continue to reflect on what a precious gift it is to be rooted in resilience in this time and this place, in this parish we want to see thrive, to the ways in which YOUR financial pledges and YOUR care and attention give St. Martin’s the opportunity to put forth new branches for generations to come.