706 For after all, an oak tree is really rooted in the sky.
Day 706: Sunday, February 20, 2022
“For after all, an oak tree is really rooted in the sky.”
- a Sunday homily by Jim Fredericks
Thomas Merton said this. He was a gifted young man who led a rather frivolous, bohemian life as a youth, mostly in Europe (his parents were vagabond artists). Later, he studied at Columbia University.
As a college student, he recalls lying in bed with his window open onto the light well of his apartment building listening to the blaring of multiple radios. Suddenly, he realized that his soul was like the light well – a thousand contradictory voices, with little or nothing to say, all contending for attention.
Merton would soon become a Catholic and, in fact, a Trappist monk at the Abbey of Gethsemane in Kentucky. Somewhere along the way, he discovered something important about oak trees: they are really “rooted in the sky.”
I think of Merton’s teaching, sometimes, when I am driving home on Arnold Drive. After you pass Leveroni Road (heading north), look off to the right when you are about half-way to Brocco’s Barn. There, gracefully opening its soul up into the sky above the Valley is a magnificent oak tree. (Actually, there is a whole grove of oaks, but I am confident you will know the oak I am talking about).
Look closely (but drive safely!). This oak is really rooted in the sky.
I think it safe to say that human beings have been created by God to be like oak trees. Like that great oak on the Leveroni ranch, we are really rooted in this sky.
Yes, of course, our feet are entangled in the vicious logic of markets and nation-states and power-politics. They are entangled in what Saint Paul calls “the powers and dominions” that insist on having the final say about our lives. They are entangled in the insane competitiveness that drives us to become creatures which God can barely recognize any longer.
Never mind your feet. We are really rooted in the sky. Like that oak tree on the Leveroni ranch, our souls are opened up into the transcendence of God. This is where our lives find their stability and draw their sustenance.
I recommend that you reflect on oak trees when you read the Gospel for today. The Church is giving us a taste of the Sermon on the Mount.
Not a few very secular people have said the Sermon on the Mount is the most radical political statement ever written. I tend to agree. The world would come to a stop if we ever tried to put into practice what Jesus is teaching in his famous Sermon.
Jesus lays before us a vision for a new way of living – a New Life that is quite absurd when measured by the logic of the world.
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic.
In his Sermon, Jesus is relentless.
Give to everyone who asks of you, and from the one who takes what is yours do not demand it back.
We might rightly ask: Who can live this way?
And so, I recommend reading the Sermon on the Mount with that oak tree on the Leveroni ranch in mind. Oak trees are really rooted in the sky, and the same is true of ourselves. We would do well to remember this when we struggle with Jesus’s famous words.
You all know the Easter Teaching: In the Resurrection of Christ, our sins have really been forgiven. And what is more, through the Resurrection of Christ, we have been given the power to forgive the sins of others.
This great teaching lays down an enormous challenge before us. Since our sins have been forgiven, it is now possible for us to live the New Life Jesus is preaching in his Sermon on the Mount. Not only are we commanded to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us, but in the New Life of the Resurrection, doing so is possible.
Jesus’s challenge has been laid down before us. Now it is up to us to take up this challenge.
But in his Sermon, Jesus challenges us not only with what he demands. He also challenges us with the hope that he holds out to us.
Stop judging and you will not be judged.
Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.
Give, and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap.
For the measure with which you measure
will in return be measured out to you.”
In each instance, the Lord first lays down a demand (“stop judging”) and then follows it up with an assurance (“you will not be judged”). What is more challenging? The demand or the hope that accompanies the demand?
We are to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us. We are to bless those who curse us and turn the other cheek when we are struck.
Who can do such things?
Before you answer this question for yourself, drive north on Arnold Drive and check out the oak trees. Then try to remember where these magnificent creations are really rooted.
GRATEFUL: A Love Song to the World | Empty Hands Music | nimo feat. daniel nahmod