PC: https://www.treesforcities.org/stories/intreeducing-the-beech

Letter from a Holey Tree

“Comfort, comfort my people,”
    says your God.
“Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.
Tell her that her sad days are gone
    and her sins are pardoned.
Yes, the Lord has punished her twice over
    for all her sins.” (Isaiah 40:1-2, NLT)

I will bring comfort to your children. They frolic on the land about me and rest in my cavern. I will hold them tenderly as they nap out of reach from the summer sun, now forgiven by your mercy.

A voice said, “Shout!”
    I asked, “What should I shout?”

“Shout that people are like the grass.
    Their beauty fades as quickly
    as the flowers in a field.
The grass withers and the flowers fade
    beneath the breath of the Lord.
    And so it is with people.
The grass withers and the flowers fade,
    but the word of our God stands forever.” (6-8)

I witness the grass fading at my feet, and I know this personally as well, for I am a beech tree with a hole. I am fading, even as I witness some elderly members no longer able enter the white walls across the meadow. Even still, the Word of the Lord continues to be spoken within the building, in the yard, and in the neighborhood all around me. It will stand forever.

Yes, the Sovereign Lord is coming in power.
    He will rule with a powerful arm.
    See, he brings his reward with him as he comes.
He will feed his flock like a shepherd.
    He will carry the lambs in his arms,
holding them close to his heart.
    He will gently lead the mother sheep with their young. (10-11)

I will hold the lambs in my cavern as we wait for you, O Great Shepherd. I am not a pastor, but I can nurture and hold these children close to my heart, speaking your love over them as we wait for your reward. I can feed them with my leaves and cradle them in my hollowed cave. 

To whom can you compare God?
    What image can you find to resemble him?
Can he be compared to an idol formed in a mold,
    overlaid with gold, and decorated with silver chains?
Or if people are too poor for that,
    they might at least choose wood that won’t decay
and a skilled craftsman
    to carve an image that won’t fall down! (18-20)

As the Psalmist declares, none can compare to you, O God. As one made of wood, I know that even this material decays. It is no creator to be worshipped but merely a vessel to share your glory with the rest of creation.

Look up into the heavens.
    Who created all the stars?
He brings them out like an army, one after another,
    calling each by its name.
Because of his great power and incomparable strength,
    not a single one is missing.
O Jacob, how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles?
    O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights?
Have you never heard?
    Have you never understood?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
    No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
He gives power to the weak
    and strength to the powerless.
Even youths will become weak and tired,
    and young men will fall in exhaustion.
But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
    They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
    They will walk and not faint. (26-31)

I see your stars every night, glorious and reliable, prophetic and majestic. They are merely my fellow vessels in your service, yet they are dear and known by you. If you know them, the many I can see and the countless I can’t, surely you know your people too. You made them in your own Image!

I am fond of them, so when your people are weak, I will become a sanctuary like the building next door. Use me to restore them in body and spirit.

A truly tiny "little white church" -- not mine, but a sanctuary for a small congregation across the country. PC: https://visitrainier.com/elbe-little-white-church/

A truly tiny “little white church” — not mine, but a sanctuary for a small congregation across the country. PC: https://visitrainier.com/elbe-little-white-church/

Cover photo from https://www.treesforcities.org/stories/intreeducing-the-beech.

Advertisements

The Beech Tree

The giggling girl and boy crept up to me as quietly as their childish mannerisms would allow, glancing all about to ensure that the deed they were about to commit in broad daylight would remain unseen. Then they carved their initials in me, a secret sign of their affections, commemorated forever a yard above my grassy roots.

~~~

I had the pleasure of knowing many children at that parsonage, from the families who lived there to those who attended church next door, and of course the neighbors. I had a fondness for the ones across the street, whom I could only will love upon from my place in the front yard. I knew they needed the love, though.

Like these young ones, I heard the late-night music of the next-door neighbors, saw their blazing campfires through the hedge late at night—the kids thought it frightening, but imagine me! I can’t move, and I’m made of wood! —and watched many a car use the church lot to turn around when they were misguided.

They were good times.

My leathery grey skin and pointed oval leaves basked in a good deal of sunlight and weathered quite a few thunderstorms as the children rode the rope swing literally to pieces, considered the engraving left by that young couple, and gazed up at my smooth branches trying to discern who I was.

The kids relished the autumn when they could rake up and jump in my fallen leaves. They felt accomplished to gather those mounds of feathery gold and joyful to disturb them into a flurry, a fluff, a frizzle, as one might say. I never quite understood the point, but it made me laugh, and their pride rubbed off on me, for I had given them the gift of those leaves—unlike the backyard oaks who were stingy and held on to their dull brown ones until March.

I was generous. I was a pillar. I wasn’t well known, per se, but I know they needed me. They needed me for play and for shade and for their intellect as they studied science. I helped them with all that as their front yard beech tree.

I’m here still, just waiting for more children to run unto this side of the yard again and entertain me with their antics. They’ll come to rely one me soon enough. Everyone needs a tree like me in order to engrave their legend.

Laughing with my friend Dina after church a few weeks ago. Credit: Katelyn Skye Bennett

Five funny moments from church this week

Two months ago, I began attending a Swahili-speaking church. I am growing in my understanding of the language but am not yet fluent enough to understand without aid, so a couple friends help me out. For context, the church is also a charismatic evangelical African church, unlike my previous evangelical white American churches. This means we actively believe in both the power of the Holy Spirit and the importance of God’s written word, and we like to dance.

Both translation and the extra energy found at a charismatic church can lead to a lot of laughter and smiles. This Sunday was no different. A cheerful friend translated for me, and we had to hold back laughter at multiple points throughout the three and a half hour long service.

Can you relate to any of these moments?

When your translator translates English into English.

At the start of the service, my friend kept forgetting to translate. I would catch her eye, and she would apologize and catch me up on what had just been spoken. At one point, the choirmaster was giving a testimony to praise God since he had recently turned 40. We both were listening to his Swahili when one of the mamas in the choir turned to us and said in English, “When he’s done, let’s all sing ‘Happy Birthday.’ One, two, three, ‘Happy Birthday.’” Those of us in choir agreed. My friend proceeded to translate the choirmaster’s Swahili testimony and then translated the mama’s already-English words to English.

“That was English,” I said. “She told us in English.”

“Oh,” she replied.

When your translator translates the Biblical Joshua to “Josh.” Repeatedly.

I grew up in the Church and have never heard the Biblical character’s name or his book translated this way. Apparently my friend had not either, for she caught mistake each time yet could not help repeating it. The pastor would say something like, “Na Musu alisema ku Yoshua,” and she would translate, “And Moses said to Josh.”

Technically, it’s accurate—it’s a nickname—but it cracked us up. I had to hold back both tears and laughter at several points throughout the sermon. Good ol’ Josh.

When a two year old steps into his mom’s livestream of the sermon.

Our church posts its services on YouTube each week, praise and worship and all (see here), but one of the pastors’ wives also livestreams it on Facebook, at least when her husband is preaching. She sat in the wooden pew in front of me this week.

Her young son stepped in front of her camera as if to say, “Hello Facebook world, I’m here and I’m cute and I know it.” (Sorry I don’t have a link for this one.) We knew it too, but that’s not why the viewers were online. I motioned him aside, but he shook his head at me in refusal.

After a few moments, the mama next to the pastor’s wife pulled him away. Ultimately, we and the viewers were there for God, not for the child, however cute he may be.

When the pastor is so animated that his mic falls off.

The Swahili-speaking pastors’ charisma always humors me compared to the French translator’s calm demeanor. All the preachers I have interacted with this summer are gentle in person but jump around and shout when up front. It’s their preaching style. It’s a charismatic church. But even when the preacher grabs his arm to demonstrate an action, the translator is best described as “chill.” He copies their motions but is more reserved.

This week, the pastor was so energetic that his clip-on microphone fell off in the middle of the message. He didn’t miss a beat, didn’t seem to notice, but continued preaching as the choirmaster jumped up to clip it back on for him.

When the pastors repeat the Scripture they ask others to read.

Often, in the beginning or middle of the service, the pastors will ask somebody to read a passage of Scripture in Swahili—or another language like Kirundi or Kinyarwanda, if needing clarification. When the person reads it in Swahili, the pastors will shout out the passage after them, line by line.

“And Jesus said—”

“AND JESUS SAID!”

“Be holy—”

“HOLY!”

“As I am holy.”

“AS I AM HOLY!”

(This is not a specific example, but I chose it because my church has a strong focus on holiness.)

I do not understand why this repetition is necessary since the person already read it, but it makes me smile.

 

I am grateful for my church and the countless ways my friends there have helped me and loved me. I am glad God is a God of humor, too; it makes life enjoyable.

Do you have any similar experiences to these five, either from translation error or from having an animated pastor? Comment below if so!