The Mother of the Forest
Shall not Lebanon in a very little while become a fruitful field, and the fruitful field be regarded as a forest? – Isaiah 29:17 (NRSV)
In a rolling pine forest at about 5,000 feet on the western slope of the California Sierras, the Giant Sequoias thrive.
They look like fantastically large mushrooms from an old fairy tale, hundreds of feet of trunk surrounded by Snuffleupagus fur and capped by a little hood of evergreen. It is impossible not to fall silent before their splendor.
When the grove of Sequoias was “discovered” by white settlers during the Gold Rush in 1849, eager to turn the earth to profit, some enterprising men decided to take the then-largest tree on a tour. Her name was The Mother of the Forest. They stripped her thick bark off into 8×8 foot panels and reassembled it for exhibitions in New York and London.
Flayed of her fireproof skin, what was left of the Mother burned in a forest fire just a few years later. Still she did not fall. She remains standing to this day, the marks of saws still visible on her charred trunk. At the top, where her canopy ought to be, her fire-hollowed frame is in the shape of a mouth crying an eternal scream.
But her scream did not fall on deaf ears. The conservation movement began as a response to the plundering of these sacred forests, and it has spread from protecting trees to protecting everything God has made: oceans, air, endangered animals (including homo sapiens, who will also go extinct if we don’t climb the conservation curve faster).
We are halfway between the new liturgical year and the new secular year. The Mother cries out, not in death throes but in labor pains, which are just beginning. Hopeful scripture reminds us that at every turning we can call out evildoing, check the tyrants, and become more fruitful fields and forests.
God, time and time again, we have heard the cries of those in pain, including of the earth itself, and we have turned, and changed. May we do it again, this Advent. Amen.
Molly Baskette is Senior Minister of First Congregational Church UCC in Berkeley, California, and the author of the best-selling Real Good Church, Standing Naked Before God, and her newest baby, Bless This Mess: A Modern Guide to Faith and Parenting in a Chaotic World.