by Berni Kaufman
This morning, I went to the car to get a Claritin. This effect on my allergies is not a favorite part of the prelude to spring in Kansas that I enjoy. However, as I walked from the office building to my car, I was arrested by the beauty this tree! (No pun intended. As I took this picture, I was facing the county courthouse and jail.) This stop-and-take-notice moment was definitely of God. Throughout my life, symbols of nature have been a way in which God calls to me.
During my years as an emerging adult, in the hustle and bustle of establishing my position in the professional world, I was demanding independence. In this cacophony, God spoke as a whisper in the flutter of butterfly wings. A gentle invitation to notice God is still in control.
In the routine of my 40’s, I was in a fog of discerning what is really important. What purpose does God have for me? Do our paths converge or collide? God would call me in the honk of a flock of geese. The message? Stop. Look up. Pray, always pray… Then listen.
Later, when I returned to the community of my childhood, it was easy to settle into the known, the expected. As I travelled familiar roads, a deer would lope across my driving path. God’s call was not so subtle. One can’t help but slam on the brakes and take time to collect oneself. God’s demanding call was to find God in the everyday, even the familiar. God would greet me in the unexpected.
Most recently, the symbol of God’s call has been the tree. Not the tree you would find in the many in the woods, as Rhoda Keener might see out her office window in Pennsylvania. Nor the tree you would find among the many in an orchard of Florida or California. Not even the tree you would find among many in a Kansas shelter belt. It is the single tree growing in an unexpected place. As a child, I had a favorite tree in the pasture. Even though it was a distance from the farm house, in its branches I felt safe. The house was still in view and the open air heard all my imaginings and sorrows.
A tree is deeply rooted. Its branches reach up and out. Whether during the season of bareness or of greening, the tree stands there as though looking for the next opportunity. It is a ready perch for next bird seeking a place to nest. Its open branches welcome children to play and climb. Its leafy loft provides shade for the farmer who needs refreshment from the drone of the machinery.
Mennonite Women USA uses as its identifying symbol the vine and the branches referenced in John 15: 5 and following. The vine needs to cling to establish its rootedness. Jesus, as the vine, clings to God. We are called to be branches. As we cling to Jesus, we discover the next opportunity to share the Message. As the vine spreads and the branches reach out, the Good News of the Gospel is revealed, hope is renewed; relationship is restored; faith is strengthened. And the Gospel grows deeper and broader.
To borrow again from tree symbolism, I have a plaque on my wall at home that reads, “Why not go out on a limb? That’s where the fruit is.” Where have you seen or heard God recently? What is God calling out to you? What divine fruit can others pluck from you? Come on. Let’s go out on a limb!