A Eulogy for Sacred Trees – Mark Lopez, SJ

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time/2nd Sunday in the Season of Creation

My love affair with trees began when I was 17 years old. I remember jogging around the Subic Naval base then, where I was spending my summer as an intern, jogging at the edge of beautiful rainforests, the likes of which I was seeing for the first time. One morning, as I was ending my jog, I remember being drawn by the mysterious and enchanting sound of trees and of the cicadas and birds that were among them. And so instead of running on back home, I found myself sitting and meditating by the edge of the forest, just listening to the life-giving whispers of trees and taking in the energy that they were giving me.

From then on, my fascination with trees would know no end. I would marvel about everything about them – their names, shapes and sizes, the sheen and color of their leaves, the smell of their bark, the kinds of shade they afford us, and the sounds they make in the breeze. And every chance I would get, from my scholastic days in the Ateneo to my days in the parish in Cambodia, I would propagate saplings of various trees and plant them wherever and whenever I could. On family trips, while others were busy shopping or sightseeing, I would be happy to be left to sit in a park with trees.

Last year, on a fundraising trip to the US, among my favorite memories were of loved ones taking me to my giant friends – redwood, cypress, pine, oak and willow trees. On that trip I saw the largest, grandest, most awe-inspiring trees I had seen in my life in the Muir woods outside of San Francisco, around Lake Tahoe, and in Portland, Oregon. That is why it pains me to listen to the news now of the thousands of acres of forest fires in California and Oregon. For this year’s wildfires alone, already over 4 million acres (that’s the size of 4 million football fields) have been scorched by the wildfires in California and Oregon combined. And over 500,000 people have had to flee for their lives. We are thankful that the loss of human lives has been kept to a minimum, by the vigilance of firefighters and caring communities here. But the loss of tree lives has been monumental. If any of you are friends of trees too, then please do join me in mourning.

Yesterday, on the news, there were interviews with scientists who tried to explain why this year’s fires are so bad. They said there are certainly 2 factors that exacerbate the situation – drought and extreme heat. Both of which, to no surprise, have been intensified by climate change. And the worst part about it is, that this is really just the beginning. We are only beginning to see the new normal of summers here in North America and across the world in places like the Amazon, Indonesia and Australia where forests will continue to burn at alarmingly devastating rates. Thanks to climate change, we have created an environment which will be difficult to sustain the life of trees.

I invite you therefore on this, the second Sunday of the season of creation, to please think about trees and all that God has given you through them. And to think about how we really cannot keep going at the rate we are all contributing to climate change.The gifts of trees are by no means just flippant and romantic, as some of my above illustrations might make you think. (Sorry, not sorry that I am a tree-hugger by heart!) But even the bible-stories, in fact our whole salvation history, from the wood of the ark to the wood of the cross, is resplendent with trees and the wood of trees. Ancient biblical traditions revered trees, like the cedars of Babylon, for their might, strength, fertility, abundance and their life-giving properties: providing food, water, shelter and comfort to so many. Note that these are all the same properties that can be attributed to the Giver and Maker of trees, no less. And were not Noah’s vessel that spared mankind from the great flood, and Moses’s staff which parted the seas and struck springs in the dessert, and Jesus’ own manger of birth and cross of suffering, all made from the wood of trees? Could it be that it was no coincidence that all this life-giving, life-saving energy from the Lord was channeled through this sacred medium?

Perhaps this is why we mourn, not only for the trees, but for the kind of world we have created or devastated, that is making it more and more difficult to sustain life and all that is sacred, symbolized today by the burning wood of trees.

May this season of creation open our eyes and hearts to how we are all complicit in the problem of climate change, to see the devastation and suffering around us that results from it, and how the Lord invites us all to seek ways to live more sustainably and be more life-giving to the world.

God bless the trees and all who love and care for them.

*image from the Internet

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