The Bristlecone Pine

25 08 2011

by JERRY W. NIEFT, Kirtland Spiritual Formation Team

I am a bristlecone pine, poised on a rocky cliff. I am very old, one of the oldest living creations of God on Earth.

I know something about life, how to live with hope and joy. To live so long, one must know at least three things: how to flex, how to heal, and how to give. I learned these three lessons well over thousands of years, and they are available to you.

I grew from a tiny seed, shed in adversity and trapped in a crack on a precarious, craggy ledge near the western coast of North America. I sprouted and sent my roots as deeply as I could into the shallow soil. It is windy here. I had to hold on for dear life. There were long dry periods when all I could do was wait. When it did rain, I grew and pried the crack in the rock wider. My roots slowly dissolved the hard rock and gave me a good foundation.

The relentless wind banged me onto the rocks over and over. As a young sprig, I could bend double, but I was tender. My bark bruised, and I grew calluses. I continued to bend with the wind instead of resisting it. Others I knew became too rigid and unyielding. They broke years ago.

At first I resented the wind, and I disliked what it did to me. It sculpted me into a shape I did not want to choose. I grew in twists and knurls so my silhouette bespeaks time and the durable joy of life.

Lightning struck me several times, pruning me and burning off what I thought were my best branches. I grew around the wounds and healed. Sometimes I had to sprout again from a stump and start all over. Yes, life is about healing. Growing and living is always about healing.

I receive of the earth and the sun, and I give in return. I breathe the breath of the animals, and breathe my breath of life in return to them. I make soil with my roots and house the birds. I please the eye of the one who beholds me and wonders. I am a bristlecone pine, and I have experienced the wisdom of life.

Ask any tree. To grow you must bend, you must heal, and you must give as you receive. There is beauty in a life that knows that. Ask the walnut tree. The veneer of its wood—its record of the past—is beautiful in the good times. But the veneer that comes from the wound, the crotch, the stump is exquisite burl and highly valued.

Healing produces a beautiful grain in one’s life.

Ask Jesus. He knows. He worked as a craftsman with wood. He died on a tree, and arose to heal the nations, one person at a time.

Spiritual Practice
Spend prayerful time with a tree. Be drawn to a living tree in your environment or find an image of a tree that speaks to you. What do you notice as you give the tree your reverent, grateful attention? What lessons of divine presence and grace does the tree offer? Give thanks.


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