The Tree of Life

During a past visit to Disney World, after exploring the traditional theme parks of Epcot, Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and the Water Parks, we made our way to the Animal Kingdom. It is a theme park set into a large zoo within a forest. One of the most fascinating features you see as soon as you enter is the “Tree of Life”. It's purpose is to illustrate the interrelationship and interdependency of all aspects of life. Many of these characteristics were carved into its trunk and branches. It was exceptional in its intended reality. But it was clear that it was man made, constructed out of concrete and paint. There was no life in Disney’s tree of life. 

The concept of a tree of life has been used in biology, religion, philosophy, and mythology. A tree of life is a common motif in various world theologies, mythologies and philosophies. It alludes to the interconnection of all life on our planet and serves as a metaphor for common descent in the evolutionary sense (Wikipedia).

I was told the story of an event that occurred a number of years ago in a Biosphere research facility located in Arizona. Trees from Africa were imported and planted and in their natural environment the trees had grown tall and strong. But in the man made Biosphere facility, their branches were noticeably weak and frail and would often break and fall off. The scientists’ eventual discovery was amazing.

What made the trees strong in Africa were the positive effects of heavy winds. The winds exercised the trees’ branches so that over time they developed a resistance and endurance to accommodate any windstorm blowing upon them. This is no doubt a perfect interpretation of life. 

We often deplore the experience of strong winds upon our lives. But if we didn’t have such winds blow upon us, we would never have learned how to overcome the stronger storms in life. 

So let me ask you – How deeply rooted are you? Is your life built on a strong foundation to withstand life's winds and storms? 

Might you have survived if your roots were deeper? Are you easily swayed by public opinion? Do you stand for what you believe in? Is popularity more important than character? When tested by life’s challenges, are you able to withstand their desire to destroy? 

Let’s now consider the example of the palm and oak trees. 

Palm trees are beautiful to look at, but when the strong winds arrive the palm tree is easily swayed and if the wind is strong enough, these trees can be easily uprooted and destroyed.  On November 8th, 2008, Hurricane PALOMA hit the Grand Cayman Island with 140mph winds. Almost every palm tree on the island was wounded or killed. 

In contrast, the oak tree is a true symbol of strength. Regardless of how severe the storm attacks or how strong the wind challenges, the oak tree will continue to survive. Its branches may break and the tree may be stripped of its leaves, but through it all, through every storm of life, this towering symbol of strength will continue to stand tall. 

Why? Because the roots of an oak tree are known to extend down into the earth up to two and one-half times its height. The oak tree is grounded. It has a sure foundation. 
With roots deeply planted:

I can withstand the winds of change and stand strong for what I believe in

I can be a positive influence for those around me. I can live a life consistent with my values and beliefs

I can be a true example of a “tree of life” for those connected to me. 

For me personally, I appreciate the guidance found in Proverbs 3:

Blessed is the one who finds wisdom and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold. She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honour. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called blessed. My son, do not lose sight of these — keep sound wisdom and discretion, and they will be life for your soul and adornment for your neck. Then you will walk on your way securely, and your foot will not stumble. If you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. Do not be afraid of sudden terror or of the ruin of the wicked, when it comes, for the wise will inherit honour, but fools get disgrace.

So as you travel life’s journey, you can do so with strength, with honour with joy, with peace. Consider these words from Max Ehrmann. It describes the wonderful living that is ours after becoming a real tree of life: 

“Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender, be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly, and listen to others, even the dull and ignorant; they too have their story. Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love – for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is perennial as the grass. Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth. Nurture strength of spirit to shield you from misfortune. But do not distress yourself with imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness. Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive God to be, and whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.” 

As we enter into the early days of spring remember winter is leaving us. Its cruel storms, its bitter cold, its dark days and unending nights will be in the past. But its memory should be ever present. Spring is uplifting and summer is invigorating. But winter will return. Let’s be ready so that our lives become ours to manage and control. Let’s live life abundantly no matter what season of life we find ourselves in. 

Thank you. 

Merv Hillier