My friend has a problem. It is a contemplative problem and a landscaping problem at the same time. She has been given a plot of land with which she can do as she likes—planting a garden or building a rustic seat—but in the middle of the plot there is a large stump. She is philosophical about it. She tells me that she has sown compost materials in the middle of the stump, and that she will wait until winter, to see how far they have taken effect. She will give to the stump her “winter thoughts.” I picture her with feet propped on the grate, drinking peppermint tea, and thinking about her stump and how far it has gotten with the process of rotting. Snow will fall outside, drift over the whole plot until only the lantern pole is showing above it. Then finally it will be spring, and my friend will plant her garden.
The stump is that of a Linden tree, one of three trees planted together on the little hillock above the main building. It is the custom in Bavaria to plant a Beech tree, a Linden and an Oak on the same bit of land together. They are meant to stand as a visual diagram of the Trinity. The trees grow together and their branches bend this way and that in the wind. The leaning of the Linden is distinct from the uprightness of the Oak, and the Beech sheds its shade in dappled shadow that is like neither the Oak or the Linden.
Two of the original trinity trees were blown down in Cyclone Kyrill that hit southern Germany in 2007. Of the three only the Oak still stands, a great tower of light and color in summer, a black cathedral scaffolding in winter.
Right now, it is summer in Germany. Days are hot, and we spend an hour or two on Sunday evening sitting together under the Oak tree, and talk about the great storm and the day the trees blew down. A black cloud came from the fir forest—we point vaguely to the mountain looming north of the building, and a great wind came up. The Linden tree and the Beech tree fell on each other and in their fall took down a third tree, blocking the entire driveway and street above it.
Abraham met three beautiful strangers in the heat of the day under the Oak trees at Mamre. I can imagine how struck he must have been with their beauty as he stood there staring up into the oak leaves moving and murmuring like silhouetted faces, in and out of sunlight. He begged them not to leave until he had a chance to serve them what refreshment he had from his house.
Encountering the three men under the tree must have been the ultimate “friendship meeting”, probably unlike any celebration Abraham had ever attended. Perhaps he shared with these three something of his journey away from city life in Ur. He must have gone to bed that night with a smile on his lips, just thinking about how it was being with those three under the huge branches.
Christian community is about encounter. Casual encounters with old acquaintances, and even disappointing encounters with stumps. As it turns out, the roots of a large tree take some time to become rich loam. My friend’s garden plans will have to take the three old trees into account. It is a German virtue that the Germans know well how to do this. Instead of changing everything at once, you must work with the land you have, and sometimes with the people you have. Community is not divorced from place. Place matters, and its defining features change over time.
The Martin Family continues its mission in Augsburg
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