For over 30 years, I’ve been drawing the same image. It’s a large oak tree, some green grass, a few shadowy mountains in the background with a vast sky, a few puffy clouds and a bright yellow sun in the upper left corner. (I drew it for you, I’m no artist, but isn’t it beautiful?)
I don’t know why I have always been pulled toward this image, why it became an icon for soothing my anxiety. Over the years during nearly every boring class or sermon, I would find myself doodling the same image, the same scene, the same tree.
I am starting to believe this image is bigger than me. Maybe it existed inside of me before time and space. Maybe aliens or even God put it there; perhaps some bark or grass my mother ate while I was in utero? Regardless of where it came from, it feels like part of my fabric. Even as I look at it now, it brings me such deep joy. I wonder, if I keep looking close enough or keep drawing it over and over, will I learn something new about myself or unlock some great mysteries of our Maker?
It also could just be in my blood, a symbol from my ancestors. The Bauman surname comes from the German word “baum,” or “boum” in Middle High and Old German, meaning “tree.” As such, Bauman may have originally been a nickname for someone who lived by a tree (1). In light of my father’s recent passing, this brings me comfort, knowing a part of him remains in me.
There is much beauty and grounding knowing that my name literally means “tree-man”. Maybe this is partly why I attempted the 2,175-mile Appalachian Trail through-hike after I graduated from college in 2005. I made it 3 months and about 900 miles of walking before I tore some muscles in the bottom of my feet and had to quit. Needless to say, I spent a lot of time with a lot of trees.
There is a safe feeling in knowing that I am rooted. Royalparks.org states, “Trees are vital. As the biggest plants on the planet, they give us oxygen, store carbon, stabilize the soil and give life to the world’s wildlife. They also provide us with the materials for tools and shelter. Not only are trees essential for life, but as the longest living species on earth, they give us a link between the past, present, and future.” If that isn’t phenomenal enough, about twenty years ago an ecologist named Suzanne Simard discovered that “Trees communicate their needs and send each other nutrients via a network of latticed fungi buried in the soil.” She has continued her research to learn how trees, using fungal filigrees, send warning signals about environmental change, search for kin, and transfer their nutrients to neighboring plants before they die. Trees have an entire network to communicate with each other!
I am tree. Despite how new-age hippy I feel when I say that, I like the sound of it. I am vital, I give life to the world, I provide shelter for many who are hurting, I communicate my needs and care for those who are in need. I am a tree. This is partly why I got a tree tattooed on my arm. This is why I breathe more deeply when I am in the wild. Nature feels more deeply integrated with my humanity, maybe more in line with God’s original intent. Genesis 2:15 states, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” We are meant to be with nature.
Pastor Jack Wellmen writes, “God gave mankind a command and told him that he must tend or keep the garden. The Hebrew word for tend, or some translations say keep, is shamar, and it means more than just keep it neat and tidy. The Hebrew word means “to guard” or “to watch and protect.” The other Hebrew word in this verse that’s very important is the word work, or as some translations more accurately say, to cultivate, and it is from the Hebrew word abad, meaning “to serve”, so Genesis 2:15 would better read as: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to serve it and to guard and protect it.” To serve, to guard, cultivate and protect.
How are you caring for our world today? How are you letting the beauty of God’s creation inform the beauty of who you are?