Go Ahead! Hug That Tree and Give Thanks This Holiday
by Pastor Paul J. Bern
It’s true. I hug people, pets, and trees. I have no children of my own, but I dote on everybody else’s. I go out of my way to treat them all well. I make no bones about it. Call me a ‘tree hugger’ and I’ll thank you for the compliment. If you would rather not hug me right about now, it’s OK, I understand. I don’t expect people to reciprocate anyway.
I once tried to hug a tree in California that was alive during the time of Christ. I couldn’t resist. I had to get next to such ancient life. To walk among that grove of redwoods was to walk in the hush of a cathedral, only one far more ancient, more holy, than any church. An ancient habitat still alive with flowing juices while busy sucking moisture from the ground and giving it back to the sky. One busy drawing energy down from the sun and giving it to the earth. I couldn’t help looking up in the presence of such enormous trees. If God creates living things of such magnificence as these trees, how much more will he do for those who ask Him for his help?
But California isn’t my home, Atlanta is. While Georgia may not be California, we also have trees that are worthy of hugging. If you’ve ever hiked to the north Georgia mountains, there are ancient and gigantic pine, poplar and magnolia trees. Although much younger than California’s redwoods, and only about half as tall at the most, I can’t help but be amazed at the majesty of His Majesty and of that which He has created continually since before time began.
You too have hugged trees, admit it or not. When you were a child, you hugged lots of trees if you were a climber, or you may have used trees as ‘home’ during games of hide-and-seek. Carrying a load of firewood is a way of tree hugging, if it’s done with the right attitude. On the other hand, I’ve been known to wrap both arms around a scruffy old oak and utter thanks and blessings for what it’s meant to the scenery and the air and the critters of this garden-spot of the universe. It’s a way of giving thanks, and giving thanks is the key to happiness and balance in our lives. Too many people see the holidays as a time to swap gifts around and to see how much they can get. Far too many more are having the leanest and most depressing Christmas they have ever had, and that is a social injustice!
It may be impossible to write anything truer than this about happiness, so let’s say it again. Giving thanks is the key to happiness. It’s a way of affirming life, of choosing hope over despair, faith over cynicism, if you’ll pardon a detour. I promise to bring this round again, so bear with me.
Abraham Lincoln, a man who sometimes suffered from what today is called clinical depression – a man who suffered personal tragedies and incredible stress, said, “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” It’s ever so true. To assess life by starting with your misfortunes is a sucker’s game. There’s no end to the misery you can catalog. One of the primary principles of Buddhism is that “All is Suffering.” While recognizing there’s some truth there, I don’t embrace that philosophy. I know it must seem true to some, but I’ve been blessed in so many ways, it would be chintzy and dishonest to pretend otherwise. For the privilege of being alive, I start each day with an attitude of gratitude and a prayer of praise and thanks unto God. How lucky am I, Lord, to still be alive and to have survived all that I have been through? Sixty-one years it’s been, and I’ve took a nasty licking but my clock is still ticking!
I would say the odds of my still being here would otherwise be all but impossible. Life is such a luck of the draw as it is. It’s like winning the lottery each year of our lives to have such an existence at all. That’s how much luck is required. It took all the crazy detours of history to bring my parents together. If a million different ancestors over thousands or millions of years hadn’t done exactly as they did most every day of their lives—and partook of the blessings and curses of life in just the right order, down to feeling romantic or lusty in the right moments, I wouldn’t be here now. If a billion bits of space debris hadn’t interacted in just the right ways to send a giant meteor crashing into the earth about 65 million years ago, eradicating the dinosaurs and making way for us mammals, none of us would be here.
If the Big Bang (“Let there be light”, Genesis 1: 3) had occurred with just a fraction of one percent more velocity, the planets and stars could not have formed. A fraction of a percent less velocity, and the whole universe would have collapsed back on itself. If seawater were a little saltier, if the earth weren’t tilted on its axis just so, if the sun were a few miles farther off or closer in, or if gravity were a few degrees stronger, we wouldn’t exist. All of these so-called coincidences don’t scratch the surface of things that had to go just right to make our lives possible. We are incredibly blessed to be alive and riding this silken beast called breathing – inhale, exhale – from the moment of birth until the instant of death.
And all those trees, exhaling oxygen and inhaling the poisonous carbon dioxide from our own breath, exist in a relationship to us that is at once symbolic of the fragile web of life and a crucial part of it. That fantastic web of life is a feature of this awesome universe we must love and adore. It is reason enough to thank God in this Christmas and New Year season, and every day of our lives. And reason enough to hug a tree.