Wednesday, December 14, 2011

December Faculty Forum

By Sean McDonough, PhD
Associate Professor of New Testament

It’s always a dangerous thing to think when you are preaching. You start wondering why the guy in the fourth pew is staring out the window, or whether you have sufficient time to include the illustration about illuminated medieval manuscript, and suddenly you have no idea what you are actually saying at that moment. What’s even worse is the ensuing awareness of your dissociation: how is it that I’m talking and at the same time I’m aware I’m talking? How many “I”’s can there be?
I was reminded of this as I looked out my window at the bare branches of the winter trees outside my office. A few years ago I was preaching in a hall with large windows in the back, looking out on the same bleak tree-scape that greets me this morning. And as I was (at least supposed to be) teaching, I was struck by how human those particular trees were looking that day.
I had been set up for such arboreal anthropomorphizing for a long while. If the Wizard of Oz’ witch and winged monkeys set the standard for childhood terror, the malicious apple-flinging trees of the same film weren’t far behind. On the positive side of the ledger, I have always thought Tolkien’s Ents are just about the best thing Middle-Earth has to offer, hoom, hoom. I am one of the few people who thought the Two Towers film could have been vastly improved with a few more hours of Entmoot-musings from Treebead and his companions. I grew up on an acre of land that was almost entirely covered with tall pines, and spent much of my youth wandering through the woods down the road.
But what I saw that day, and this, was not simply the generic human-ness of trunks and boughs. These trees, it seemed, were doing something quite specific – stretching out their bare branches to the grey skies, crying out to God for the renewal of Spring, calling out for their own annual resurrection.
In the bleak mid-winter, on the cusp of Christmas, in the bareness and brokenness of our own lives, may we go and do likewise.

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