I wonder if you have ever had the experience of a particular piece of scripture seeming to keep on popping up in different places? It can feel a bit as if it’s following you around! That’s what happened to me with this passage from Jeremiah. And I think often that’s a sign that it’s something God wants to direct our attention to.
I first encountered this passage, with its striking image of the tree rooted by water, when I was on retreat at a convent. As I read the passage, several things struck me straight away:
- It’s not that the tree doesn’t suffer from drought or heat – it’s that it has what it needs to survive, and even to grow through those adverse conditions, because it has its roots in living water.
- The roots are rarely the most attractive part of a tree – they aren’t the parts that impress us with their beauty or fruitfulness – but they are essential. Any gardener will know that without healthy roots, you won’t have a healthy plant.
- The rootedness of the tree by the stream is key. The relationship between the tree and the stream is permanent and intimate. The roots are constantly immersed in the water, not just dipping in and out. The tree will change and grow, but it remains rooted in the stream which gives it life.
Later on that retreat, I went out to the convent’s Water Garden, where there is a pond, with a stream flowing into it, and by the pond is a tree. In your packs this week you have a photo of the Water Garden. I couldn’t find one with the tree in, but if you look carefully you will see the shadow of the tree at the water’s edge. You can imagine standing where the photographer is, with the branches above you, the water in front of you, and the roots beneath your feet.
This is where I stood, as I reflected again on those words from Jeremiah. I noticed again the closeness of the tree and the stream, the physical connection between them through the roots by which the stream gives life to the tree. And I noticed too how different the tree’s relationship with the stream was from mine. I would pause a while, admire the stream, watch it, listen to it flowing, maybe even dip my hand into it, and then move on. But the tree remained, rooted and steadfast, its roots submerged deep in the water, providing stability, nourishment and growth, in every season.
What an image for our relationship with God! Rootedness, stability, nourishment, growth, living water… in season and out, sustaining us in the face of whatever droughts or storms may come our way. It is an image I have returned to again and again. And although I often feel a long way from that peaceful Water Garden, every time I see a tree root trying to break through the pavement, I am reminded of it.
So when I came here to Hodge Hill and at my first Church Meeting was given a paper with the picture of the ‘growing tree’ on it, of course this passage came to mind. The tree rooted by the stream, able to withstand adverse conditions, nourished and sustained by living water, seems to me to be an image of our church community here, as we continue to grow together, firmly rooted in the life-giving love of God’s.
We need that rootedness now more than ever. We may be feeling buffeted from all sides, or dried out with heat and drought, but still the stream of God’s grace keeps on flowing, keeps on nourishing and sustaining us, sometimes in hidden ways. Still, in these strange times, we as a church community are a tree that is bearing fruit, though often in unexpected ways. Still there is life and growth.
I wonder where you are noticing growth at the moment – in yourself, in the church, among your neighbours? I wonder what is helping you in this season to stay rooted in Jesus, the Living Water?