In our garden there is an apple tree. It’s tall, and was clearly planted many years ago, presumably by someone who once lived in the house.
In the tree is a nest. In the spring, amidst the blossom, a couple of birds raised their brood there.
Ivy climbs up the trunk, and squirrels hide nuts in its crevices.
Each autumn, an abundant crop of apples ripens on the tree’s branches.
The apples get turned into crumbles and chutneys – the latter shared with family and friends through the year.
The ones that fall and rot before we can get to them provide a feast for insects, birds and small animals. Anything that remains nourishes the soil around the tree’s roots, and spurs on the next year’s new growth.
The apple tree offers a model of right relationships. Between animals, plants and the soil. Between people and the rest of creation. And across the generations.
The Old Testament talks of right relationships as being ‘shalom’. This is often translated as ‘peace’, but it conveys much more than that: it means a completeness and wholeness with God, others and with creation. It is about relationships rooted in justice and recognition of mutual interdependence, so all life can flourish.
These relationships also begin with a garden: the vision of a creation at ease with itself and its creator in the Garden of Eden. But what happened with the fruit tree in the middle of that garden is emblematic of the reality that relationships can be broken when boundaries are breached, when human greed and selfishness are allowed to take over.
In our world today, the climate crisis and environmental degradation point to a breakdown in the ‘shalom’ of right relationships between humans and the rest of creation, and poverty is a sign of the absence of justice.
Reconciliation is the process by which broken relationships can be put right. In the Bible we see God reaching out to people, again and again, to initiate that process of restoration. But reconciliation is a two-way process – it requires a response, a repentance, a willingness to change life-denying ways for life-giving ones. We can do so holding firm to the hope we have in Jesus that life rather than death will ultimately prevail.
One way we can begin to respond to this invitation to reconciliation is through acknowledging that we are but a part of God’s creation. The coronavirus outbreak has been a harsh reminder of our vulnerability as creatures, no less invincible than any other part of nature. As we rediscover our ‘creatureliness’, our creaturely limitations, we start to recognise our interdependence with other creatures and the rest of the natural order.
Only from that place of humility will we be able to imagine a reconciled world and develop relationships that enable the mutual flourishing of both people and creation – and see the steps we can each take to get there.
Something to do
Spend some time today contemplating a tree and how it relates to the rest of creation.
Something to ponder
How is your Living Lent enabling you to build right relationships: with God, with other people, and with the whole of creation?
Does thinking of yourself as a creature change your perspective in a helpful way?
Today’s reflection is written by Simeon Mitchell. Simeon is the Secretary for Church and Society for the United Reformed Church and JPIT’s deputy team leader. This is Simeon’s second living lent.