Saturday, November 30, 2013

" a tree..." (Notes to a Vagabond Generation)

"Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly.... [rather] his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by a river.... The ungodly are not so but are like the chaff, which the wind drives away." Ps. 1:1-6

The bogeyman of my generation.
All the counsels of the ungodly wither. They are without substance, for the counsel of God alone is all-substance. This is another one of those radical, rebellious notions that offend the finer sensibilities of my vagabond generation. We prefer to "keep our options open," avoid ruts, and escape "comfort zones." We fear stagnation; we fear petrification. We fear consistency and coherence, and what is more stagnant and consistent than a tree? It spends its whole life in one spot, gripping tighter to its beloved safe zone. It will never know the freedom and personal growth of the uprooted life. Of course, an uprooted tree no longer grows at all, but that is hardly the point to us. Carpe diem is the point, and we shall seize it even with our dying breath.

"Viva la freedom!"
All our romanticized idealism over "freedom" or "liberation" or "openness" does not change the hard, common sense fact that an uprooted tree is still a dead tree. You can replant it with each uprooting, but the continual upheaval will be enough to kill it eventually. Trees are meant to stay put, to take root where they are. The stability of its location, the consistency of its nourishment, the coherence of the operation of its parts---all this "stagnation" is its strength, its very life. If that is stagnation, then perhaps we should all be a little more "stagnate."

"All the earth and sky are mine."
It is not stagnation, however, and that is the single greatest error made by my generation: we equate stability and consistency with stagnation and death rather than life and strength. God certainly sees it as life and strength. That is why He uses the image of a tree in this psalm, and it is a perfect image. A tree is a paradox. It never moves, and yet it's always moving. It remains where it is planted, yet it consistently grows further upwards and downwards, gripping the earth tighter and tighter with a myriad of brown fingers coiling from a great knotted fist, and stretching into the sky higher and higher with a multitude of branches unfolding like outstretched hands holding a rich supply of leaves and seeds and fruits and flowers. It grows simultaneously more entrenched and more outrageous, outrageous because it is entrenched.

Dante visits "the liberated."
That same tree-paradox is the life of those who build them- selves on the true, substantive counsel of God. The more they entrench themselves in the truth, the more substance they gain, and the more outrageous and lavish and wondrous their life grows. Our vagabond generation does not understand this. We prefer to hobo it from one patch of ground to the next (in order to superficially "experience its culture" or whatever), and in the end our rootlessness leaves us tossed about by every wave of doctrine or thought or fashion. Like chaff on the wind, we are unceasingly restless and aimless, never finding home.

And all the while, we who are rootless cast a pitying eye to those who have been planted in God's truth, assuming that their immobility will be their destruction; but that assumption will be our destruction, for immobility can be a proof of life just as much as of death. Proof that the tree has been planted by a river. Why should it move? Why would it move? "To whom shall we go?" said Peter to Jesus. "You have the words of life" (John 6:68). By His words we are fed, and by His words we sink deep into infinite earth and stretch high into infinite sky. Again, why would we move? We have found the source of life.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2013

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