At the heart of being an Anglican is the call to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the face of the earth. God’s earth; God’s creation; God’s gift. As we plant trees to mark the Lambeth Conference 2022 we are not only living out this aspect of our discipleship, but we are also expressing hope for the future.

This hope is beautifully expressed in a quotation often attributed to Martin Luther: ‘Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree’. Planting a tree is an act of faith as, unless we are young, we are unlikely to see it grow to maturity. We are making a deliberate act to contribute to a future that is not of our own but will be affected, for good or ill, by our actions.

Trees are beautiful and majestic, and often dwarf us by their scale. Their length of life dwarfs our lives too. When felled, we can estimate their age from the annual growth rings in their trunks which also lay out the history about years of plenty and years of drought or disease. Many tree species are endangered and, as the climate changes, they are increasingly affected by new pests and diseases.

By caring for trees so we are mirroring God’s love of creation and are living out the call to Adam in Genesis 2 to have a watching protection and seek to preserve God’s gift. In tending creation as God’s caretakers, and experiencing God’s blessings on our faithful labours, might we glimpse another dimension of ‘shalom’ – life as God intended it originally and life as God will restore it in the age to come?

The Christian narrative begins in a garden of trees, described in Genesis, where Adam and Eve are warned not to eat from the tree of knowledge. Knowledge can be dangerous. At the end of the biblical narrative, in Revelation, we look forward to paradise regained with a tree-lined river reflecting God’s benevolence where ‘the leaves of the trees are for the healing of the nations’.

Jesus was laid as an infant in a feeding trough, likely made from wood, and he learnt his father’s craft in feeling the grain and having an eye to what a plank might uniquely become. He would have learnt to create joints to bring things together and how to plane off the rough edges. Outside the city wall he was pinned to the wood of a tree, the cruel nails holding him in place as he was laid on a cross bar of torture, creating a joint between heaven and earth, giving of himself to plane off our sin that clings so close.

Difference cultures associate various tree species with the wood of the cross, including the aspen (Betula tremula) whose scientific name implies its reaction to the guilt it still carries in its trembling leaves, still shaking in fear.

In many places there are veteran trees which stand statesmanlike and are revered for their sense of permanence. Communities have shared stories under their shade, in their branches children have climbed and outlaws have hidden, their fruit has filled hungry bellies, and fallen timber has been used for construction or to cook a meal and warm the cold night air. In nooks and crannies a myriad of fauna live and flora grow in moist hollows along twisting branches. Meanwhile, as the trees breathes in and out through their leaf-filling chloroplasts, they lock away carbon from the atmosphere, much of it created by our overdependence on fossil fuels to feed our demanding lifestyles.

These trees hold the memories of communities in their anchored waiting, sometimes bearing the scars of war and with the dead from pandemics buried

in their shadow. They are places where saints and sinners are recalled. Perhaps the tree you plant this year will be the place where you will be remembered from one generation to another.

Throughout the Biblical narrative we find people encountering God by trees. Abraham entertained angels at the oaks of Mamre, Moses stood shoeless next to the burning bush, Elijah sat in despair by a broom tree and was given fresh baking, Nathaniel was called from under a fig tree to a new way of living, and Zacchaeus climbed the sycamore tree because he was desperate to see Jesus pass by.

People speak of entering a connectedness with the creator amidst nature. Walking in a forest environment is shown to be good for body, mind and soul. The Japanese call it shinrin yoku or ‘forest ‘bathing’. No wonder, there are those who, when in nature, feel that they can join in the song of creation that they can hear all around the,: ‘let everything that has breath praise the Lord’ (Psalm 150.6)!

We also encounter trees, often planted next to water and having abundance, being used as a metaphor for the righteous life. The Psalmist captures the essence of a person living within the law of God as being ‘like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither’ (Psalm 1.3). That is why I give every person whom I Confirm a tree to plant. I hope that it will not only remind them of their Confirmation, and the promises they made, but also provide them with something through which they can live out their duty as a Christian disciple to care for the planet.

Here in the Diocese of Norwich I give them a hazel tree because of the words of Mother Julian of Norwich, a local saint, who held a hazelnut in the palm of her hand and God revealed to her how “In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it. The second that God loves it. And the third, that God keeps it.”

Planting a tree should make us like children again! We should be drawn back to a childlike awe and wonder at the beauty of creation. Hold on to that and enable it to shape how you see the earth, how you might live more simply so that others might simply live, and how you might encourage others, who you serve and lead, to tread more gently on planet earth for the good of the whole of creation and those who will come after us. That is one aspect of being God’s Church for God’s world that we need to work together on, live out with all out heart, and proclaim afresh.

+Graham Norvic:

Norwich, UK