Tuesday, November 11, 2008


A few weeks ago, we had our first hard freeze overnight. The hosta plants in the garden looked like cooked spinach the next morning, and so did the one potted plant that I'd decided not to try hold on to for another year. Early in the morning, a few yellow leaves began to fall from the ash trees, and the higher the sun climbed into the sky, the faster the leaves fell. It was like someone had flipped a switch. By the end of the day, the trees were mostly bare.

But the oak trees on our property are completely different. The oaks never seem to want to let their leaves go. Some of them hang on through rain and snow, blizzards and ice storms, all winter long, until they get pushed off by the new buds in spring. As if the old, brown, dead leaves were somehow still feeding the tree!

Here in the north, November is a time of transition in the world around us; a time when what was once green and growing has become brown and dormant. Winter hasn't quite arrived and the beauty of autumn is past. Being in the pulpit every Sunday, where the scripture readings for the weeks before Advent all deal with the End Times, I'm thinking about the ash trees a lot. What symbols of faith they can be for us! At the right time, they let go of the foliage that nourishes them, trusting that when spring comes there will be new growth and new life. It doesn't seem to bother them that ice storms could break them and the winter kill them. Gracefully, they just let go.

I would like to be like an ash tree, trusting that God will give all I need through the storms of life, and that when all is said and done, I'll be with God. But I'm afraid I'm more like the oak that clings so tenaciously to the glory of the past, scrambling to find ways to assure myself that I'll always have what I need. Like the oak, we all hang on to things that we think make us secure, but time after time, God pushes all that away--like the new oak leaves push off the old ones come spring-- and gives us new life.

Thinking about this reminded me of a short scene from Eddie' Wake where in early spring Karl notices an old oak leaf flying away in the wind.

Chapter 27 A Reckoning
Karl turned up the collar of his jacket as he waited for his sisters outside Holy Angels School. The wind blew from the east, gathering cold air from the ice caked shores of Lake Superior and spewing it over the town. He remembered his father saying that a wind from the east meant they’d have bad weather in a day or so. Even though there’d already been a few days of sunshine and warmth, Karl knew winter wasn’t finished with them yet. The overcast skies made the day downright gloomy.
As he crouched beside the gnarly old oak tree trying to keep warm, a car pulled up in front of the church. He got up, thinking Mr. D had come to give him and his sisters a ride home, but he stopped short, stunned, when he saw Melvin Straus get out. All hunched over in the wind and holding onto his brown fedora, Melvin scurried across the church yard, and went in the side door, the door where you were least likely to run into another person...
Karl’s clenched jaw began to ache. He took a deep breath. Although he didn’t know what he was going to do, he knew he couldn’t just go home and do his homework like any other day.
Lizzie and Anna came running toward him, the edges of their coats flapping in the wind. At almost the same moment, Mr. D arrived. Karl helped his sisters get into the car, and said, “I think I’ll walk, Mr. D.” He tried to act normal despite his anger.
“In this wind?”
“Yeah, don’t worry. I need to talk to somebody. I’ll be along in a little while.”
“Everything all right?”
Karl smiled, knowing it looked phony. “Yep.”
“When should I start to worry?”
“Nothin’ to worry about. I’ll be home before supper, for sure.”
Mr. D looked Karl in the eye without saying anything for moment. “Breathe deep, boy.”
“Yessir, I remember.”
Karl watched the car pull away. Soon his mother would be well again and Mr. D would go home. He realized he’d miss him, then thought of his father and felt guilty.
He leaned against the tree, shivering. He watched a few leftover oak leaves break free of their branches and sail away like little brown boats in the air...

Thanks for reading!

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