There is a red Japanese maple tree in our front yard. It's branches are low to the ground and open wide like the arms of young mothers. All children have the same response to it, they look up at the leaves first, then they jump for the branches, trying to capture a leaf. Finally they see the trunk, how low it is to the ground, how it beckons them up and in and away. The brazen ones climb it without instruction or permission. My children weren't brazen that way, they all had to be taught how to climb. When they were 3 or so, and they looked up at the tree speculatively, I asked, "Do you want to learn how to climb a tree?"
The answer was always a resounding yes because there was the tree, expansive and available, calling them to come.
I put my hand where they put should put their foot. I showed them where to hold, how to go hand over hand, I spotted them until they could get up and down and up and down without tumbling out.
The children live in that tree some days.
The week after Thanksgiving, the leaves blaze a brilliant red. They are the last to fall in our forest and they fall slowly. The leaves linger, like they're showing off. The ground under the tree is a carpet of leaves so red Little Girl pretends the ground is aflame with the sort of fire that didn't hurt Moses or his bush. The holy kind.
This tree was planted 20 years ago, for a child who died. A much loved child. A child I didn't know, but I feel like I do. Because I have this tree in my front yard.
This tree that houses my children and their cousins and their friends. This tree that makes the ground holy with it's bright red leaves.
This tree is a grave.
The morning winter light slants just so that the tree looks like it's catching on fire, the wind blows and the fire-leaves dance and glitter just like the little flame of the advent candles we light each night of December.
Aside from climbing it, there is nothing better than simply beholding it.
This tree is a gift.
Despair and hope. Sorrow and love. Pain and joy. Darkness and light. All together. All bound up. Comingled and inseparable.
How can it all be altogether? In one soul? One life? One tree?
We have small group on zoom, everyone in their little boxes. One woman, the smart one with the kind eyes said, "How in the world can I feel both compassion and anger at the racists I interact with? Am I supposed to be able to feel both things at once?"
Another woman, the wise one, read Ecclesiastes 3 aloud. "Listen for the and," she said.
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
"The time for these things, all these things, birth and death, reaping and sowing, tearing and mending, they can all happen at the same time. It's not either/or. It's not a time to reap OR a time to sow. It's and. It's a time to reap AND a time to sow. Your soul is big enough. You can hold both."
That tree in my front yard is big enough to hold both: both the living children and the memory of the lost one.
My friend's soul is big enough to hold both: to love the sinner and hate the sin.
Christmas is big enough to hold both. The present darkness and the flicker of light.
Has the world ever been wearier?
Everyone, believer or not, is yearning for some kind of salvation. Something big and real to come and rescue us.
The thrill of hope.
Salvation requires us to hold both: despair and hope, love and hate, war and peace.
Like the tree in my front yard, it invites us in, to climb. To marvel. To remember. Salvation requires our participation in things being made new, redemption. Resurrection. A grave turning into a garden.
Salvation comes worked out in bodies, in trees, in Christ's body hung on a tree.
The invisible kingdom of God worked out here and now.
It starts with realizing that in our time, we can hold both.