Another has come my way which I wish to share with you today. One of our Panellists for the annual Basil Sellers Young Writer awards "bestest friends" is a fellow scientist, Mary Farelly, currently ministering in Barcaldine, Qld who recently celebrated 50 years in ministry. Mary has served in many roles but two have been as a high school biology teacher and a Chaplain at the University of Western Sydney.
I have two stories to relate. The first was when in seminary 36 years ago (Morling NSW Baptist) we were told the story of a very experienced minister who was in the doldrums with a spiritual dearth. He went to visit an elderly local Sister (Marist) who was known for her Christian insights and wisdom. Her response way that it was not a case of his well being dry, rather that his well was not deep enough. It turned his life around.
The second came from a situation from my second congregation in Warragamba where a local family visited me wanting their infant "done". My congregation were the confessing type, commitment was the focus. It happened that the local Priest John Evans was celebrating his 25th anniversary as a Priest and invited me as his Ministry cohort (only the two of us in town) to join him with his Bishop, Bede Heather for lunch.
It seemed to me that the Bishop, being elderly and wise, might shed some light on my pastoral dilemma for this young family. The Bishop's advice turned my ministry on its head and changed me forever. He explained that when a candle is just flickering (faith), why snub it out.
Likewise therefore, is Sister Mary Farelly's message of insight and wisdom. Mary writes: Have You Ever had a relationship with a tree? Well yes, I suppose that does sound a little crazy. Let me think of another way to put it: have you ever felt grateful to a tree, or grateful for a tree? Not so long ago I was talking to someone, from the downs country I think. The conversation was in the context of clearing. He spoke of how glad he was to have a tree in a paddock to provide some shelter for the stock! I sometimes breathe a quiet 'thank you' for the marked drop in temperature when walking on a hot day as I come from the blazing sun into the shade of a tree. Do you have a favourite tree? Would trees be on your list of 'things I would miss' if there were none? Trees would definitely be on mine.
Trees which have been important to me include the willow tree which grew hard up against the paling fence in our neighbour's backyard when I was at growing up at Merrylands. It was great for climbing. There was another tree at Merrylands. I would sometimes go and stand under it. I loved its bark. I don't think I can describe it in a way that will enable you to picture it: rather than being like a covering wrapped around the tree, it was divided into irregularly shaped sections which were themselves like stacks of layers! This was a pine tree in the grounds of the convent where I had joined the Marists. Later when I did botany at Uni I learnt that its name was Pinus radiata and that it is a common forest tree in Europe.
I was teaching science a couple of years later and there was a tree outside the laboratory window. It was a Jacaranda tree. Around August every year I watched and waited hoping to see the first bud. Every year, so it seemed, the flowers suddenly appeared before I could spot their approach. It felt a bit like a competition between us, me and the tree. Always the tree won but I loved it just the same and it brought me much joy as well as a welcome distraction from some of the student challenges.
There was a small tree in a courtyard of one of the departments when I was chaplain at UWS. One day as I called in on my rounds, I felt my heart skip: as it was covered in flowers such as I'd never seen before. It looked so beautiful. Several years later new management decided that it was a problem so they had it cut down. I felt angry and sad on the day I when discovered this.
Here in Barcy we have a big Acacia tree growing at the end of our yard. Someone commented one day that these trees are weeds and should be pulled out. I love our 'weed and not least because the shade it provides makes it an ideal place to have a pot plant garden. We're on a corner block on the road to Blackall – lots of traffic - with no fence. Symbolically you could say that's rather nice: all are welcome, even the occasional 'roo. However, I sometimes feel rather exposed: no hiding the washing, let alone oneself. Down the back under the Acacia tree amongst the pot plants, there is a little privacy. Yes, trees are definitely on my list.
On my list too are seeds: their shapes, sizes, whether seen under a microscope or simply held in the hand. I can't remember the name of the tree - I dubbed it "the tassel tree" when I first saw it. Beautiful! Its seeds I called "worry weeds"; not weeds at all but I guess it just rhymed and sounded okay at the time. They had a single wing and I discovered by chance that if you threw one up in the air, it would twirl around like a little propeller as it slowly fell to the ground. As a struggling Uni student at the time I imagined loading my worries onto the seed and letting it carry them away. Again a little crazy, but taking time out to throw seeds in the air did raise a laugh and break the tension for some of us students.
Something which fascinates me about a seed as I hold it in my hand is the difference between it and the adult plant which it has the potential to produce. I look at the seed, roll it around and then set it down. There's nothing much else you can do with seeds - apart from worry weeds! I think of the trees I've loved and the joy they've brought me, of the happy times I've had 'with' them. I think of the seed from which each one has come: there's just no comparison. And no seed, no tree. I feel a sense of awe and wonder.
I feel a similar sense of awe and wonder when I think of God, of our God's love for each of us, of God's gift of life, God's desire for our happiness which is to culminate in what St. Paul has called "that which no eye has seen, no ear has heard…" (1 Corinthians 2 verse 9). This will be so unless I choose otherwise. I can't miss out by mistake! God didn't bring us into existence to destroy us.
As the seed is to the tree, this life is to the next. And as the seed is to the tree, so is my perception of that future to the actual reality! It's worth the waiting and whatever goes before.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html