By Christie Purifoy
Trees are not widows and orphans. Trees are not the ministry of the church. Yet trees spread their roots throughout the stories the Bible tells. Adam and Eve broke their close connection with their maker beneath the heavy-laden branches of a fruit tree. A felled tree held Jesus, the woodworker from Nazareth, as he died. In the Bible’s closing chapters, we read about the day when heaven and earth will be joined, and we will live beneath the shelter of a marvelous healing tree. In Scripture, the trees praise God. Do they not know that their days are numbered? Do the trees not understand that one day their home, this earth, “will wear out like a garment”?
Having chosen Maplehurst—because we believed it had been chosen for us—I wondered for the first time in my life about the value of a tree beyond its beauty or its shade. Certainly, trees are the lungs of the earth. Without the oxygen released by trees, we couldn’t sing God’s praises, and my own lungs and those of my children have shown themselves to be especially vulnerable. But it was only after I became intimately acquainted with bark and roots and leaves here at Maplehurst that I realized these biblical trees had always been paper-thin in my mind. Mere metaphors. Even the fig tree cursed by Jesus was little more than an insubstantial object lesson. But despite the flimsiness of the paper check awaiting signature on my desk, I was not being asked to pay metaphorical money for my Maplehurst trees. The cash we might spend on these old maples was cold and hard, and I could think of a dozen more “spiritual” ways it might be used. Even leaving that aspect aside, I could more easily justify making a deposit in my children’s meager college savings accounts, or paying for any of the needed house repairs, than spending one more penny on these dying trees. Yet, as pastor Adele Calhoun writes, “Trees carry theology in their veins.” I had never reckoned the full worth of a tree.
I wrote the third check. I wrote it though I had not resolved my doubts. I wrote it only because I decided that if the cattle on a thousand hills belong to our God, then surely there is enough divine bounty for both orphans and trees. But it was only after the pruning was finished that I began to comprehend the opportunity we had been given. The “limbing up” of our trees took two full days and a large crew of hard-hatted men. By early evening on the second day, we had three enormous piles of fresh mulch for the garden, but we had something more too. As the last truck rolled back down the drive, Jonathan and I stood side by side on the front porch. Where an impenetrable green curtain had only days ago rippled in the breeze, our eyes now traveled the full length of the driveway. Two days before, it had looked like a long, dark tunnel. Now it was like a soaring cathedral of light. With their heavy lower limbs removed, our trees appeared to touch the sky. Silvery green leaves met above the driveway in a vast, delicate arch. “I had no idea they were so tall,” Jonathan whispered.
Three years have passed since that day, and we have not lost another tree.
This earth often looks like a patched and faded garment, just as the prophet Isaiah predicted. Nations rage. Neighbors squabble. My apple trees are stricken with blight. Even these maple trees will not stand forever, no matter how well we care for them. Why, then, do they sing? And why should we join their chorus? I had no vision for how beautiful our old trees could be. With my eyes clouded by dollar signs, I’d thought only of their aging wood and drooping limbs. If it had been possible, I might have tossed them in a garbage can the way I dispose of a pair of ragged old jeans. St. Paul told us that all the invisible attributes of God are made visible in creation. Though our trees were planted by men and women, they were created to reflect God’s glory. Even I could see that now. And I had been invited to participate in the glory, called to cultivate and care for these towering blessings, and thus, to share in the peace of their shelter. I originally thought the amount on that third check such a high price to pay, but now I considered it a bargain.
I came to Maplehurst with a heart to care for people, but God wanted more from me. God wanted more for me. He wanted to bring me into a community, not only with people, but also with all of creation. Maple trees and daffodils, blue skies and starlight. Incredible gifts like these should never become mere backdrop. We sing with the trees because death and decay met their defeat on a wooden cross. We sing because Isaiah also spoke of a new earth that would “endure.” I don’t know exactly when or how that forever earth will come to be, but I feel sure that I have glimpsed it. I see it in every strong, young red maple planted where an old, decaying silver maple once grew. I see it when neighbors gather to hunt Easter eggs beneath a cathedral arch of rejuvenated trees. And I begin to suspect that in so many ways, and with our participation, this earth is being remade from the inside out.
As are we.
Taken from Placemaker: Cultivating Places of Comfort, Beauty, and Peace by Christie Purifoy. Click here to learn more about this title.
Images of comfortable kitchens and flower-filled gardens stir something deep within us–we instinctively long for home. In a world of chaos and conflict, we want a place of comfort and peace.
In Placemaker, Christie Purifoy invites us to notice our soul’s desire for beauty, our need to create and to be created again and again. As she reflects on the joys and sorrows of two decades as a placemaker and her recent years living in and restoring a Pennsylvania farmhouse, Christie shows us that we are all gardeners. No matter our vocation, we spend much of our lives tending, keeping, and caring. In each act of creation, we reflect the image of God. In each moment of making beauty, we realize that beauty is a mystery to receive.
Weaving together her family’s journey with stories of botanical marvels and the histories of the flawed yet inspiring placemakers who shaped the land generations ago, Christie calls us to cultivate orchards and communities, to clap our hands along with the trees of the fields. Placemaker is a timely yet timeless reminder that the cultivation of good and beautiful places is not a retreat from the real world but a holy pursuit of a world that is more real than we know. A call to tend the soul, the land, and the places we share with one another. A reminder that we are always headed home. learn more at ChristyPurifoy.com.
Christie Purifoy earned a PhD in English Literature at the University of Chicago before trading the classroom for an old farmhouse, a garden, and a writing desk. She is the author of Roots and Sky: A Journey Home in Four Seasons and lives with her husband and four children at Maplehurst, a Victorian farmhouse in southeastern Pennsylvania. Her lyrical reflections can be found at ChristiePurifoy.com.