Nature was made for man. In the brilliant wings of every butterfly, in the rippling muscle of a whale, in the surface of the shimmering jewel known as the ocean, there is a sense of egotism that is hard to escape–those things were made for us. The world was made for man, not man for the world. There is a huge theatre stretched out before us, and have been given wonderful seats. This is how I justify climbing trees.
Climbing trees is an oft-neglected activity amongst “adults”. After a certain age, our minds begin to solidify like pudding left on the counter, and we view this timeless art as something foolish and asinine. We forget that tree-climbing is both salvific and sanctifying–one of the lesser sacraments, but no less significant because of it. Zaccheaus was saved when he ascended a tree to see God; why do we not more often do the same?
“Become like little children,” Jesus said. Well, I can think of one thing that all children do. They climb trees. They swing from branches like monkeys, the build houses and forts amongst limbs, the shimmy up and down rough trunks. They twist and dance and fall and scrape and delight in life. Instead of merely watching the show, they become a part of it, and dance and act amongst the props laid out for them.
All Creation is God-breathed; God spoke and it was so. There is no Martha’s amongst those children climbing trees –worrying about dinner and feeding guests and making sure everything is cut and square and proper. There is only Mary, sitting at the feet of her Savior and breathing. We cannot help but to scold Mary as Martha did if we choose to neglect climbing trees (for those blessed to be able-bodied, of course). For there will come a time when we cannot seek Christ amidst high boughs and a rooftop view; it will not always be with us. But for those with whom it is–enjoy it! Enjoy it as if you were in the company of Christ himself; that is exactly where you are when you perched out in space.
The last time I worshipped as such was after Christmas. It was a Thursday, and it was cold. The temperature hovered around 15 degrees. Snow covered the earth in a quiet, contented blanket. I put on thick gloves and a thick coat. I pulled a ski mask over my face to protect from curious branches. And then I started my brief pilgrimage.
It took me about 30 minutes to climb the 60-so foot pine I picked out. The Christian walk is never easy, but I am quite out of shape, and by the time I wrapped myself around the uppermost branches of this particular tree, I was panting and my breath came in short little cloudy puffs that drifted away amidst clean smelling needles.
One of the great things about climbing trees–tall ones especially–is that once you’re up, you really have nowhere to go. Situated amidst the branches, I felt like a bird of prey surveying the world. Then I looked at the stars thrown across the dark blanket of the night sky and I felt like I was being watched by a thousand hawks, and if it wasn’t for the branches that surrounded me, they would swoop down in unison carry me off. The eyes of the angels were on me and I had nowhere to go.
I had two choices. I could climb down–a task that was not appealing seeing as I had just climbed up–or I could reconcile with them. So I prayed. In the quiet above the ground, in my little wooden temple, I just prayed into the silence–the tip of an arrow pointing to Heaven. And when I was done I enjoyed existence. All 200+ pounds of me sat perched on a branch about the size of my forearm. Worry, insecurity, and doubt were all channeled into that single springy bough; meanwhile, I was free to be alive.
But even Zacchaeus was called down after he talked with Christ. So like Zacchaues, I shimmied down from the holy height, and returned to the crowd below. And as I hopped to the ground, my boots throwing up puffs of crystal white snow, I felt great. For a brief moment, I had been right where I should be–and been on cue. I hadn’t needed to do anything but show up. And I felt great.
How could I not?