Like a Tree Beside the Waters
They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper. – Psalm 1:3 (NRSV)
Christians use particular words to describe the Church. “Congregation” from the Latin con (with) and grex (flock). Koinonia, Greek for “community.” We call ourselves an “Easter People,” sing about being “part of the family,” or refer to “our church home.”
I have another name for the Church: “Riparian Community.” You may not know the term, but you’ve probably seen riparian places. They’re the areas around a riverbank or tidewater where bushes and trees take root. Today’s psalm sings of riparian places.
Riparian areas are easy to overlook in lush landscapes. But they stand out in the browns and golds of the desert Southwest. They’re green. They’re also noisy. Birds nest in the bushes and trees. Insects cling to the leaves. Deer, kangaroo rats, even coyotes seek out riparian areas for shade and water.
In riparian areas, you see life not found elsewhere in the desert. As a child, I thought red-winged blackbirds only lived in rain-blessed places like New England or the Midwest—until I saw one perched on a cattail near a desert stream outside Phoenix. It felt like a miracle.
Refreshment, renewal, protection from harsh surroundings, unexpected new life. Those are the gifts of riparian areas in dry and hard lands—or dry and hard times. What better calling could we have as a church than to be a riparian community? A place to rest and re-charge. A place that offers the gift of life, over and over again.
For this dry and weary world, O Lord, help us be like “trees planted by the waters” and our churches to be your riparian communities of faith. Amen.
Talitha Arnold is Senior Minister of the United Church of Santa Fe (UCC), Santa Fe, New Mexico. She is the author of Mark Parts 1 and 2 of the Listen Up! Bible Study series and Worship for Vital Congregations.