It was the end of times. On moving to Trail from Castlegar we kept our rent down by agreeing to take down some of the trees that were rooting far too close to foundations and roof lines for either comfort or the good of the house. All told, I created stumps from an evergreen, two deciduous, and an ancient birch.
The remains were hauled to the curb, along with the trimmings of other trees that continue to shade our place, and provide a yearly crop of leaves or pears, cherries, or pine cones. The next summer, most of them were back.
If I’d thought myself, by dint of wielding axe and chain-saw, to be some sort of apocalyptic angel, the trees–root, branch and green new shoots–set me into a fairer frame of reference. Pruner, maybe, Angel of Death? Not so much.
Humans too, have suffered cataclysmic events: quaked in fear as the ground shook, as waves overtook land, as wind overthrew buildings, as armies thundered across fields, as famine, disease and catastrophe slammed down hard. Human will and hubris has been reduced to stumps, many and many a time.
Right now we’re in the midst of the quaking and the trembling and the wave tossing. Systems are struggling to hold onto power and control. Ways of doing things are being overtaken by unimaginable consequences. And what does our gospel tell us to do? How do the ancestors who lived through their own earth shattering changes advise us?
“Stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
We, who stand on the high ground of the backward look, can see clearly that responding to God’s call to tend and care for all creation by, for instance: ending slavery and granting votes to women did not end the world. We can declare that taking children out of mines did not price the product beyond the reach of profit, nor did capturing oil from oil changes cause the system to bog down with dirty liquid. We can say that children are better off without the benefit of cigar smoke and that car drivers haven’t really missed it either. Even Residential Schools – testimony to the apocalyptic hell of good intentions –are beginning to hint at new growth coming out of ten thousand year old stumps. Stumps we thought we’d eradicated a generation or two ago.
What lies ahead? Where else are we called to rearrange practices and right wrongs? Who knows? Perhaps an entire economic system, based on exploitation of the earth and every living thing on it is about to come crashing down. Perhaps we are on the verge of a turn in world history that results in all creation receiving the care, respect, even the veneration due its sacred, wondering, mystical roots. Who knows what changes are heralded by the winds and storms and quaking nations around us.
We cannot know. But we can know that new shoots grow. That no end is final, that no change is death. Apocalyptic, perhaps. Fierce, often. Earth-shattering, maybe. But final?
Raise up your heads to the heavens. Your redemption is at hand. Look to the new shoots, look to the old stumps.
So the words of hope are written on the Advent of new birth in an ancient story.
Keith Simmonds is a diaconal minister in the Communities in Faith Pastoral Charge serving Beaver Valley, Rossland, Salmo and Trail.