Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The baobab tree

Our closest friends are traveling to Senegal in a few weeks, to spend a week in a Wolof village adopted by their church family here in Washington--It's an amazing Kingdom work, I think, this joining of a small, needy village with a church family. The beginning of a relationship that will last, longer than a week or a year. I love this being together they are doing, the family they are creating together across the world, to share and share alike. The church here will send people, and they will go to sit with those in the village, and see what they might do to participate in life there, and also to simply learn from them. Kingdom work, for sure, this going and sitting and learning. And I'm envious of what they are doing. I admit that straight out. Half my heart is in Africa at times, I think. So when my friend asked me if I would think with her about some of the images of Senegal, and write of them, I gladly said I'd dwell in that land any way I could. I'd walk it, and see what God might say to us together. So for the next several days, come with me to Africa-- walk with us, will you?

When one comes from a land populated by more trees than people, one can overlook them. Pay them no mind, or even grouse about the needles that fall on our roofs, decks and obscure our views. But in Senegal—in all of Africa—where trees are fewer, and the horizon wider (I dream of it, I know it must be, though my brain tells me horizons are actually always the same distance!), reigns most miraculous of all trees. Usually it stands alone on a grassy plain, monstrously wide, its trunk gray and wrinkled like the giant elephants that wander the continent, its limbs spreading crooked clumpy claws across the horizon. The baobab tree.

There’s something amazing about this tree—a giver of life in every form. Such trees are landmarks for travelers, visible from car, camel, horse and foot. And shelter—homes, even businesses have been built in baobab trees, carving out a broad place, and the living tree keeps growing up around it. Imagine that! Imagine living out your life in the center of a breathing tree. Its bark is used for rope, its wood makes the most beautiful of musical instruments, the shell of its fruit bowls. Every bit of the tree--fruit, leaves, sap, bark, roots—has genuine medicinal qualities in it. Every single part. And every part people use for food as well. This tree, in a land where food and medicine is hard to come by, stands tall and alone. And its trunk can hold water, just like the elephant it looks like, up to 12,000 liters, which is why it can grow strong and sturdy in drought and desert. Why, this tree makes our tall majestic evergreens look merely ornamental. Yes, it's a miracle, indeed.

And though the baobab tree sometimes has leaves all year round, it only blossoms once a year, one single night in the late spring. Blink and those precious blossoms are gone. The baobab is the stuff of poetry and legends, of rites and devoutness. One tree on the long, bleak landscape of the African heat. One tree that lives longer than any other tree on this earth—over a thousand years. One tree that gives home and sustanence and hope and signposts, and very life to those who live beneath its branches.

Again and again and again those who live in its shadow are drawn to its not very pretty appearance—because they find life there.

Just like we do, finding life where: “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.” (Isaiah 53: 2) Isn't this amazing? I was awestruck when I read of this tree, a metaphor for the One who gives us Life. We also have that baobab tree, standing high across the landscape of our lives. Don’t we? We can make our homes in Him, while He grows up around us and continues to breathe. The landmark when we need to point others to the Way. Health in Him. Sustenance, hope, poetry. Rope when we need to pull someone along, or hang on ourselves. We have it all in Christ.

“And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God, does not have life.” 1 John 5:12

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