Thursday, July 22, 2010

I am a Tree, Rooted in the Sea: Tattoo #3

"I am a tree, rooted in the sea."

Some day, I would like that line to be in a larger poem. For now, that line is the poem.

The line came to me and captured my attention a while ago. It started as "a tree rooted in the sea," until I realized I liked the imagery so much because I am such a tree.

Trees are holy. In Genesis 2, the trees represent gifts of God like life and knowledge. They represent memory and covenant when Abraham plants a tree at Beersheba (Gen 21:33). They are altars. In the ancient and modern worlds, they provide so many gifts, essential and luxurious--heat, shelter, food, paper, furniture, beauty, healing.

In Revelation, a river flows from God's throne when heaven and earth become one. On either side of this river grows trees whose leaves provide healing for the nations (22:2). God gives trees at the beginning in the garden and at the end in the city.

Many trees live cyclical lives, going through seasons of virility and seasons of death, but they keep reaching for the impossible, reaching skyward. They never make it and they always make it, for the sky is always just a little bit higher. Even in death, a tree either becomes a tree again by returning to that which made it grow or it reaches skyward once again through fire, turning into air and ash, entering into more trees and eventually becoming the sky. I have a tree tattooed on my arm, reminding me to reach for the impossible, grasp it, and continue reaching.

Roots are not a biblical metaphor to my knowledge, but they are an apt image for faith, family, and life in general. I have family roots, geographical roots, and spiritual roots. My roots keep me connected, but they do not keep me in one place. Jay McDaniel calls this having roots and wings--having a permanent connection to things of the past, but not being stuck in the past. I call it being rooted in the sublime, ubiquitous, interconnected, permeating sea.

That which gives me life, which moves in and out of me also moves in and out of you. Our roots may never touch, but we are one and the same. The ocean is but a liquid ruach, a fluid pneuma.

I can stand firm against the tempestuous torrents and waves, because of my roots, and I can move with currents, because my roots are not set in something solid. Rogue waves, tsunamis, hurricanes, blizzards--none of these are meant to be weathered alone. Trees standing together withstand more, each in a different spot, but all in proximity.

The deeper my roots become, the farther I can travel and I can go nearly anywhere, since waters cover most of the earth. The stronger my faith is, the more I can do with it, the more I can look back and move forward, to new places on a journey, not on a path. Paths are not worn on the sea. You can only blaze your own trail and no one can follow it exactly. The ways are infinite, the destinations endless.

The tree tattooed on my arm is fashioned after the Tree of Gondor logo featured in the movie The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. This tree grows and flowers only when its king is in the land. At the beginning of the movie, it is barren in a state of winter, because the city is ruled by a steward. The tree cannot reach its full potential until it is saved along with its people by its king.

The steward is a man who lost his way. The king has been go so long, he usurps the king's role. He is supposed to act in the stead of the king, not as the king, a fine distinction. Whereas he is supposed to care for what is the king's, he acts as if everything is his own and he cares for it like a lost man. His sons are treated like possessions, not people belonging to the king. His kingdom is nearly lost for selfishness and pride. Hope is lost and he kills himself, assuming his king can save neither him nor the kingdom. He sees no future and would destroy all that is the king's, if not for the king's return, foreshadowed in the movie by the tree reaching skyward and blossoming, tapping into its potential.

I had to get the tree tattoo this summer in West Virginia, because my internship title is "eco-steward." I was also fortunate to work with a great tattoo artist who is the stepson of another eco-steward's supervisor. Certainly I was a steward before and I will be a steward after, but this summer and this place rekindled my passion for being a steward of God's world, rooted, but not contained in the Bible. I have gone through virile and dormant states in my relation to God's world and now I am growing, connecting myself to this world in order to connect myself to God.

I am switching again to a vegetarian diet (except for local, responsibly fed and treated animals and locally hunted/fished meats), I am purchasing fairly traded products, I am supporting more local foods, and buying products that produce less waste (for example, cereal in a bag, not a box and a bag, or oatmeal in a recyclable, cardboard cylinder). I have already grown past the beauty of my previous relationship with God and the earth. And the love triangle is already benefitting me, too, as I am losing fat, gaining muscle, saving money, and having a great time doing it.

One side of the tree on my arm has leaves, although it is not clear whether the leaves are falling or growing. The other side is under the stars, perhaps reaching for those stars, tapping into its potential in early spring, or in a dormant state of winter. The tree resists classification of which side is spring, which is fall, which is taken care of by a good steward, which is blessed by God, a conflation aided by a lack of color. The image is cyclical, a fortuitous deconstructive that I did not plan, but rather discovered.

The tattoo is a black outline with dark waves, ominously sublime and representative of the greater sea. Under the waves are visible roots, reaching down as much as the branches reach up. My new tattoo is but a portrait of myself, for I am a tree, rooted in the sea.

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