The Tree of Hope
At this time of year, I often find myself looking intently for the first signs of Spring. Whether it’s a faint sound of a bird’s song through a dark early morning, or green shoots that I’m watching to see bud into delicate snow drops or bright yellow daffodils – signs that Winter is giving way to Spring feels very much like hope. A simple hope to see more of the sun, bluer skies, and to enjoy more opportunities for walks and garden time. And this year, more than any other, I don’t think I’m the only one. More than that, Spring carries symbolism of a deeper hope. A miracle of nature of living things growing from seeds
It’s no wonder that nature is powerfully symbolic and can “speak” into some of the deepest human experiences of suffering and bereavement, that may sometimes feel like a winter of the soul. Before our eyes each year we see fresh scented buds, blooms and blossoms emerge from cold, hard, grey/brown earth and branches. Impossible to fully understand, like the miracle of new life and Resurrection that mark our Christian understanding of the world and the ultimate hope that we are offered.
Hope is an interesting word when we think about different things it can mean. To many people it speaks of a kind of optimism, an outlook, a disposition – we might say, ‘wishful thinking.’ But the Bible seems to suggest something quite different. We read in Hebrews (6:19) that hope is an ‘anchor for the soul.’ It is ‘firm and secure’ because our hope lies in the faithfulness of God that is consistent throughout all the seasons – the winters and storms as well as the summers of life.
Although I understand very well what anchors are, I don’t know a lot about being out at sea, and so the weight of the metaphor might be slightly lost by the fact I have never had an experience of having to drop down an anchor in stormy weather to secure the boat. But I can imagine. The point came home to me once as I heard a Bible translator recount his dilemma of expressing this particular concept in his work for a tribe of people in an Indonesian province close to Papua New Guinea. They had never seen the sea, and so would not easily relate to hope as an ‘anchor’. But he observed that, as their homes were built high in the trees, their version of secure foundation was the carefully constructed wooden base. The local name for this base is what the Bible translator used to explain the meaning of hope in this verse in Hebrews – the point being it is the thing that keeps us safe, grounded, and secure.
This is what came to my mind when I heard about the Tree of Hope that Annabel Russell has set up at St Mary’s. This is a poignant opportunity for us to be involved in a small gesture that carries a weight of importance. For those of us without Facebook, I’ll repeat the invitation here:
‘The aim is to decorate the tree with colourful ribbons as a symbol of hope over the coming weeks. We’re inviting anyone to tie a ribbon on a branch while praying for a loved one, the NHS and essential workers, the bereaved or someone who may be struggling at this time. Feel free to write who you are thinking about o the ribbon. Feel free to bring any kind of ribbon you have to hand, but there are also some spare ribbons in the church porch.’
We might participate by adding our own ribbons to the tree of hope, or by sharing the opportunity to do so with others. We might add our prayers to those of others. We might consider how others are praying for us and for those we love and care about. In all these things, let us be assured that the hope we have is firm and real. Hope that God’s love sustains and keeps us through the winter – and that in Jesus we have peace for today to sustain us.