Planted by the Water, Reaching Toward the Sun

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Some time ago I was traveling through the Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix and had a bit of time to spare. Like many airports, this one has a chapel and I stopped in for a few moments.

My attention was caught by an exhibit of weavings done by a nun, Sr. Jeanne Bartholomeaux. The display included a weaving of a tree whose roots were anchored at the bottom of the piece and whose branches reached up and across the fabric. There was a trellis supporting the tree, and patches of light and dark. She had titled the piece “Frayed,” and had opened up the weaving in such a way that there were loose threads moving across the tapestry. According to the artist the piece was “designed to be a reflection on the time when change occurs, with both the uncertainty and the promise of possibility that the moment holds.”

As part of Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, I’m familiar with change. We’ve just revised degree programs, have experimented with online delivery and are in the midst of an administrative restructuring. Sometimes, I feel a little frayed.

But, I am intrigued by Sister Jeanne’s words. She wrote: “Change is a part of the pattern of life. It often takes place when we are stretched thin and need to find ways to revitalize our days. Change can come with an invitation that takes us in a new direction. Confrontations with change, large or small, come with challenges often requiring a leap of faith.”

The weaving also reminds me of the words of Jeremiah. In chapter 17:7-8, the prophet writes:

7 Blessed are those who trust in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
8 They shall be like a tree planted by water,
sending out its roots by the stream.
It shall not fear when heat comes,
and its leaves shall stay green;
in the year of drought it is not anxious,
and it does not cease to bear fruit.

Jeremiah’s vision of a tree planted by water, continually nourished so that its leaves stay green and it continues to bear fruit, is a good image—stable, secure, unchanging. But when I bring these words to Sister Jeanne’s words, I realize that in reflecting on the necessity of being planted and establishing a firm root system, we may miss the other end of the tree—the part that also needs to keep reaching and growing. I am reminded that the roots aren’t there so that the tree never changes, but so that it can grow and change without ceasing to bear fruit. The roots provide a kind of lifeline and, if they are fed and watered, we can trust the roots to hold even as we think about change.

The challenge all of us face is to trust the root system, to venture out along the trellis so that we can create new patterns that will allow us to continue bearing fruit for many seasons to come.

Sister Jeanne wove a sense of light from behind the darker images, and called that the “presence of grace, the source of hope.” I want to believe that God’s grace will continue to be a source of hope as we move into the future at FPU, especially when that requires us to change—to develop new patterns, to try new things, to let go of what no longer serves the mission.

May we be like a tree planted by water, sending its roots into the stream. And may we embrace the change that sends our branches reaching toward the light. “Blessed are those who trust in the Lord, whose trust is in the Lord.”