“Redwoods, Ashes & Energy”
Text: Isaiah 61: 3 – “The Voice” translation
As for those who grieve over Zion, God has sent me to give them a beautiful crown in exchange for ashes, To anoint them with gladness instead of sorrow, to wrap them in victory, joy, and praise instead of depression and sadness. People will call them magnificent, like great towering trees standing for what is right. They stand to the glory of the Eternal who planted them.
Often when I begin to work with a particular text I look it up on the computer and read the text in a variety of different translations. Every once in a while the different translation will offer a new perspective or a new word that sends my thoughts in a new direction. That is exactly what happened with this text. When I read my text from “The Voice” translation I got to the part about the great towering trees and it reminded me right away of the giant redwoods in northern California. Has anyone else been there and seen these great towering trees?
Well, I thought a short field trip might be one of the best ways for us to appreciate the sheer magnitude of these trees. Now I think it is important for us to recognize that some of the other translations refer to the trees in this text as giant oaks. There are some good sized oak trees out there, but they are not giant redwoods and simply cannot compare. So when I read in the text “great towering trees”, at least for me, they had to be redwoods.
So what we are going to do is take a virtual field trip. Northern California is a ways away, so we are going to experience the redwoods in another way. One of the first things I want to point out about these trees is that a mature redwood at its base can have a diameter of up to 24 feet. I just happened to bring a tape measure with me, so I want everybody to get up and form a circle. We are going to make a circle that is 24 feet in diameter so we can see just how big around these giant redwoods really are.
Ok, now for the really amazing part. Not only do the redwoods grow to be 24 feet in diameter, they also grow to a height of 350 feet tall. I don’t have a tape that reaches 350 feet and we don’t have a building that could accommodate that anyway. So we will have to use our imaginations. We are going to stretch this tape out 50 feet. Now we can see what 50 feet looks like, but we will have to use our imaginations to visualize a tree that is 7 times higher than this 50 feet. These are big trees.
One of the unique things about redwoods that allow them to grow to such great heights is the way they process the environment that surrounds them. You see, most trees absorb water from the ground. They have tiny capillaries beginning with the root system that runs all the way to the leaves on the tree. These capillaries fill with water and when the leaves give off moisture and some of the water evaporates, it new water moves into the capillaries at the roots and everything moves up a little bit. It is the water that brings some of the nutrients to the rest of the tree. But there is a physical limit to the height that the tree can lift all that water. For most trees, the height limit is around 60 to 80 feet in the best of conditions. But the redwoods are different. They have adapted to their environment in an interesting way.
During the summer months in northern California, it is usually quite dry and there isn’t a lot of rainfall and water is a bit scarce. But there is a heavy fog almost every morning. The redwoods have adapted to be able to use the moisture in the fog, and spread nutrients to the rest of the tree through a capillary system that almost works in reverse of most trees. The water flows from the top down, and this allows them to grow to such giant proportions, because the tree doesn’t have to lift the water 350 feet into the air, it allows gravity to do the work as the water flows down from the crown of the tree all the way to the roots. It is a magnificent example of adapting to a particular environment.
You might be thinking about now that is all very interesting, but what in the world do giant redwoods have to do with Ash Wednesday? Well, I’m so glad you asked!
The text indicates that we are to exchange ashes for a crown. The text says that we will replace sorrow with gladness and rather than dwelling in depression and sadness, we will experience joy, and praise and victory. The redwoods, I think, teach us how to do that. They adapt to their environments and use what is useful and they absorb the positive energy that is available to them to grow into such magnificent creations.
So here we are. We have a choice. We can choose to be redwoods or we can choose to be weeds. The primary difference is how we receive the environment that is around us. We have a choice about what energy we are going to absorb, what nutrients we are going to feed ourselves and how we will use the environmental forces around us to either build us up, or tear us down.
Every one of us is exposed to both positive energy and negative energy every single day. We have the ability to choose which energy we will absorb into our beings and what energy we will allow to simply bounce off. We don’t have to take it all in. We can choose to allow some of what we hear, some of what we see, some of what we read and even some of what we experience to just move on past us. We don’t have to absorb everything that is around us. We can adapt to what is available, just like the redwoods have adapted. We can choose to absorb the joy, the victory, the praise and the gladness that surrounds us every day. We just need to watch for it and recognize it when we see it.
One of the fascinating things that I like to think about when I consider trees of all kinds is that from a tree comes firewood. When we go camping and have a campfire or when we light a fire in our fireplace or the fire pit on our deck, we use firewood. This firewood comes from trees. I like to think about firewood as stored sunlight. Have you ever thought about it in that way? You know the sun is essentially a big ball of fire, and when that light reaches the earth, the trees absorb that energy and store it in the form of wood. When we burn the wood, we release that energy once again in the form of heat and light that makes fire. Firewood is stored sunlight.
Once all that energy is released, we are left with ashes. There is some energy still in the ashes, but not much. Ashes represent for me the ‘ground zero’ of energy. Ashes is where energy begins again, ashes are often used as fertilizer or compost and the upside of a forest fire is the ash that is left once the burning is over. Forests recover remarkably fast from a forest fire because of the ash.
Tonight we will be using ash once again as a symbol. As we offer the ash to you this Ash Wednesday, focus on the idea that all the negative energy has been released. Everything that holds you back has been burned up and all that remains of the old is just the ash. This is a new start, a new beginning, the ash is what remains of all the old energy that is now gone. From this moment forward allow the ash to remind you that you can choose what energy you wish to absorb and nourish yourself with only that energy. Become the towering trees you are called to be. Grow to be the spiritual redwood that lies dormant within you. Absorb the energy that surrounds you.
The ash you receive in this moment changes everything; as the scripture says, old things have passed away and look, all things have become new. Your redwood moment has arrived. Grow in peace.