Reflections - Generous Trees

Eleanor Deckert

I find it interesting to focus on one topic and explore variations and possibilities. Since on-line research is so easy now, I can put pieces together quickly, moving from “I wonder...” to “A-ha!” within a few minutes.

In the previous “Reflections” I shared thoughts about “My Garden.” From there, my mind moved to “Trees.” When, where and for which cultures do trees have special symbolic meanings?

The term “sacred grove” popped into my head and Wikipedia supplied information. A sacred grove and each kind of tree have special religious importance to many cultures throughout the world with symbolic meanings of the mythological and polytheistic practices of Celtic, Baltic, Germanic, Slavic, Greek, Roman, as well as the Near East, India, Japan, and West Africa. Buddah reached enlightenment under the Bodhi tree. Oak trees have long been a symbol of strength and nobility. From ancient times until the present, Laurel leaves have been worn by the winner. The olive branch still conveys a message of peace.


The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The next best time is now. ~Chinese Proverb


The Bible is full of references to trees and gardens. Best known is the Garden of Eden in the book of Genesis 2: 8-9, 15-17 with the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Trouble begins in chapter 3 as twisted lies, blame, cover-ups, shame and exile enter the story. The very last page of the Bible in the book of Revelation 22:2 mentions this same “Tree of Life with its twelve kinds of fruit... and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”

Noah was commanded to build the ark from gopher wood to withstand the flood. Moses was commanded to build the ark from acacia wood covered with gold for the Tabernacle.

Psalm 1 describes the blessed man who rejects joining in with the wicked, scoffers and sinners and who delights in the Lord as “a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.”

The prophet Isaiah wrote in 55:7 and 12, describing the glad day when a people will “forsake their wicked ways, return to the Lord, that He may have mercy on them, for God will abundantly pardon.” Isaiah's words overflow, trying to contain the day of rejoicing when each one is forgiven. “For you shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands”.

Jesus Himself speaks of trees in Matthew 7:15-20  “You will know them by their fruits.”

The crowds broke down palm branches to hail the incoming King! Jesus struggled alone on the Mount of Olives, waiting for the deadly sequence of events. The soldiers braided thorns as a crown. The writer of Galatians quotes Deuteronomy, where it is written, “Cursed is every one who hangs from a tree,” referring to Jesus' death on the cross.

Non-Christians wonder, “Why do you wear a cross? It is an instrument of torture.” And the believer might answer, “One deliberately bore the punishment that I deserve, and, being both God and Man, with His last breath He said, “Forgive them”, even for torturing Him. So, I can wear this Cross and rejoice at the Gift I have been given.”

I don't know why the God of the Universe would specify the type of wood a builder should use, but I am amazed at how many times 'wood' and 'fruit' and 'trees' and 'gardens' and names like 'cedar' and 'fig' and 'vines' are mentioned in Sacred Texts. I do know that a tree is a wonderful thing, but I don't know how such a tiny seed can become such a mighty tower of green. How can each type offer unique characteristics of strength, suppleness, beauty, and endurance? How can such extremely different climates and soils all support the life of trees? How can such delicious fruit come from such knobbly branches? Again and again and again trees regenerate themselves. It is all a wonder.

Perhaps everything about the significance of trees is best summed up in Shel Silverstein's book, “The Giving Tree.” Whatever the young boy needs as he grows up, the tree provides: pretend play, apples, an income from selling the fruit, shade to rest and a place to mark the initials of his sweetheart, lumber for a home, the great trunk to build a boat, and at last, in his old age, a comfortable stump to sit upon and reflect on the goodness of life; and, over all of those years of needs and turning points, the Tree has one satisfaction: Giving