Cheering Trees

Several years ago I had the opportunity to work in Glacier National Park. I arrived before my coworkers and was instantly able to connect with the secrets of the land. By late May, the sun gets hot enough to melt the high snows, and the mountain faces weep with untamed streams and waterfalls on their ways to the valley lakes that, when hit with sunlight, reflect a blue that alludes to Eden. The snows eventually give way to spring grasses accompanied by a multicolored collage of wildflowers. The air is pure and untainted and smells like nothing. When in a place like this, one gets the sense that nature is pointing to something greater than its own beauty, to something greater than our own arrogance.

I arrived on a Wednesday, and by Sunday I was sentimental toward the life I left in Alabama. As I sat alone on the porch of my cabin calculating the distance I’d traveled and the magnificent unfamiliarity of my new environment, it occurred to me that millions of people were worshiping God around the globe. Some were freely singing praises while others were trying not to be found by their government doing so. I, however, was alone in Montana, on an old cabin porch. In the midst of these thoughts I noticed the wall of trees across the road, their leaves severely green against the blue sky.

I didn’t know what kind of trees they were, but they seemed to applaud as I sat before them in my reflective solitude, and so I called them cheering trees. A mellow breeze meandered through the valley, and when it caught the leaves it made them look like thousands of hands waiving in a terrific frenzy, as if something tremendous was happening. I realized that something tremendous was happening: the leaves were cheering, indeed, for they were alive for another day. Caught up in a liberating flurry, the breeze reminded them of this gift, and they worshipped because of it.

It occurred to me that, each time we rise from our beds, we are also allowed to do what I saw those leaves doing: we, too, are granted life and can cheer because of the gift. The leaves hummed a simple, celebratory note with the wind. To me, it was a hopeful reminder that I was not as alone as I had thought.

The words that emerged from my study that morning were from the Gospel of John: “Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” (1:3-4)

I later learned the trees were aspens, and I concluded that the “quaking” of their leaves, along with the weeping mountains, the invariable plains, the lakes, animals, and the breeze are all ways Christ is letting us know he is here amidst us, calling us into the same adventure of life that caused the leaves to cheer.

This is what I learned from the aspens: nature is alive with Christ, and it, too, worships its creator. It would bring our souls great relief if we would stop for a moment, unplug, find a seat on the porch of our hearts, and discover that, as William Shakespeare put it, “exempt from public haunt, we would find tongues in trees, books in running brooks, and sermons in stones.”

Rob Foley works, plays, and lives in Denver, CO, with his wife Leah, and is part of the full time staff for A Christian Ministry in the National Parks (ACMNP). He met the Sleeths at the ACMNP board meeting in September.