The mighty tree. A symbol of the power and beauty of creation, proud surveyor of the natural world and a beacon of hope standing tall above manmade structures. But what is the tree without its roots?
Christians have spent millennia contemplating the “fruit” of trees as a metaphor for spiritual health and expression. We have given “the roots” much less contemplative time. It makes sense: why spend hours waxing theological about phenomenon that buries itself in the dirt? Not unlike the iceberg-base, we intuitively understand the significance of tree roots but they seem much less interesting in conversation then what stands in plain site. Besides, the fruit is bright, sweet and satisfying. The juice and flesh of a sun-ripped fruit, dangling seductively on the branch has been the muse of poetic inspiration since the first time humankind dared to pluck it from it’s stem and consume it. While we easily connect to the sugary-power of the tree’s produce and I agree Spiritual fruit deserves conversation, I’d argue an even more robust connection to the tree’s foundation, the roots is even more needed in Christian spirituality.
Much like the elusive iceberg; which science has shown hides as much as 90% of its mass underwater, a telescoping arboreal also hides its true power down deep. For every 1 inch of above ground growth, a tree may grow 45 inches of roots below the ground. That would mean a 30 foot tree could grow more than 1,300 feet of roots underground. For every 30 feet of tree standing tall in plane sight, there is the equivalent of 43 trees (worth of roots) unseen. Since tree roots grow in a ball shape, the density of the root ball , though spindly is almost 45 times greater than the mass of the trunk above ground.
Of course, we’re Christians not botanists. What does this little adventure into root science have to do with understanding our walk with Christ and the Scriptures. Read Jeremiah 17:8 with this new knowledge, “They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream…” Or, Psalm 1 “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.”
The expression of “fruit” (i.e. Galatians 5:22-23) is important as a visible sign of our Spiritual connection to Christ, so that those who do not know Christ’s love can find it. Christ love for mankind shows itself in the fruit Christian’s produce on behalf of the world. However, the need to show fruit should never overshadow the need for “roots.” Without roots there can be no fruits!
It’s only because the roots of faith burry down deep into Christ that a tree (a Christian) can produce good fruits of love. It’s only because the gift of faith given to us by Christ, through baptism that large, broad leaves (i.e. worship and prayer) receive spiritual nutrition. It is because the roots of faith are constantly fed by the Spirit, with the Gospel, which is Christ’s love that thick bark grows to encase and protect our lives.
Nourished by the sacraments; the Gospel, Christians burry deep into Christ. Out of the connection, which is greater than any fruit we could ever produce, Christ takes His time to grow the internal, unseen world of the Christian which then gives birth good works, visible for all to see. When suffering assaults the outer walls of Christian people, our “bark” is able to withstand and retain the health of the core. When sin attempts to burrow into the inner layers of the Christian’s heart and mind, these pests are rebuffed, finding an unwelcome, health and stiffed internal world, able to resist the gnawing of sinful desires. We all see that a tree survives above ground, when the unseen root ball below ground is stronger, larger and more powerful than the prevailing winds, storms and weather in which the tree makes its home. The same is true for the Christian, standing tall, rooted in Christ.
May our quest to produce luscious, Spiritual fruits of good works never allow us to forget to return to the root of Christ as our only hope!