The twisted tree is me

twisted treeAt first glance this tree looks quite ordinary.  Almost dead, but quite ordinary.  Perhaps a slightly more charitable assessment would be to suggest that it is clinging on to life.  It is, I hope still there, on a footpath above Trefriw up towards Llyn Geirionydd, for it is worth going to see.  There are countless thousands of trees around us but this one in particular caught my attention, caused me to turn aside for a moment.  On closer inspection the trunk of the tree is twisted beyond all reasonable expectation.  The trunktwisting continues up through the branches as they reach for the skies.  The twist is always anti-clockwise as it runs up the tree.  It looks as if it is continually turning to find the sun, but never succeeding.  A perpetual corkscrew of bark and wood.  Perhaps once the tree had a glorious canopy, but not today.    It is the teenager of trees, the Ash – late to rise into leaf!  Today they are bare branches holding themselves out to the sky as if in hope for one final flourishing.  The temptation to personify the tree is strong.  To imagine the tree as a person with wounds and scars of life bared for all to see.  One who opens out their arms, as if to say ‘Here I am this is who I am and it is all there is’ in some sort of public confession.  Daring those who see to condemn rather than to accept.  To turn away rather than seek understanding.  To see deformity rather than elegance.  What has happened to cause the tree to twist like this perhaps we will never know.  There are the usual scars where a branch has been taken or fallen but nothing to suggest why it has contorted so.  The list of reasons suggested why trees grow like this drift quickly to mythology and folklore.  Twisted trees are said to be a sign of a spring nearby.  In the Welsh Mabinogion it is an Ash staff that Gwyddion bears.  A symbol of healing and transformation.  Physician, heal thyself!  More down to earth suggestions are that it has been struck by lightening.  The resultant twist coming from a contraction of the fibres in the tree which naturally grow in a spiral.  Trees in the open as this one is are prone to the wind and sun bending branches one way, then pulling them another.  However the tree came to be like this doesn’t take away from its peculiarity.  It is a thing of beauty in all its contortions.
It is possible to see this tree as a mirror of life as we struggle through continually seeking that which nourishes us.  Accepting the blows and difficulties turning continually away from them and in search of something brighter.  These are the things which make us who we are.  We would not be the same without them, we, like every other tree I passed that day, would not stand out.   Lutheran Pastor Nadia Bolz Webber has written a great book called ‘Accidental Saints: Finding God in all the wrong people.’  The book is part of the story of her life.  From stand up comic, alcoholic, tattoo canvas and more she is perhaps an unlikely suspect for Pastor of a church.  Yet, it is in her brokenness that the wholeness becomes visible.  Nadia has exposed the darkest parts of her life for public scrutiny and has come through it all.  She is who she is before God.  Her honesty is enough.  It has been said of her that she preaches to herself and lets other people overhear.  If you think you are not good enough to be part of the kingdom of God, read her books, you’ll soon find yourself right at home.  We are all wounded in some way or other.  Acknowledging it and bearing it gives us our strength.  A twisted tree trunk gives incredibly strong timber, though often overlooked by the timber miller who looks for consistent grain.  Psalm 118 – the stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.  In the words of the deuteronomist:  ‘I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.’  Or in the words of the Gospel of Luke:  ‘Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.’  We each carry our cross.  In baptism we are marked with the sign of the cross, a reminder to bear our weaknesses, failures and be proud of who we are before God.

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