two trees

While it needs a bit of a haircut, it still retains its charm. This is often the case with botanical gardens established during the colonial era. Aburi, north of Accra (Ghana), is no exception. Among the many exotic highlights, two trees caught my eye.

The first is 'the strangler tree'. A tiny parasite settles into a crack in the tree, or on a branch. The seed germinates, sending out 'air roots' - stealing light from above and nutrients from below - as it envelops the host tree, gradually strangling it and killing it. The strangler takes on the very shape of the host as it retains the appearance of a tree. But inside it is hollow. The host has been destroyed and the hollow space which remains follows the contours of the former host - and it is so large that it is possible to climb all the way to the top inside the tree (as our guide is doing in photo #3).

The second tree is a carved tree. It is a dead sandalwood tree on which a carver has gone to work (NB: the Aburi area is famous for its wood-carvers). Our guide spoke of the carved tree as depicting the striving and straining in creation, as people push and pull their way upwards towards the king at the top (see photo #5), the source of ultimate power and the focus of ambition. Crawling upwards. Stepping on each other in order to move ahead. And not just the people, but animals as well. A giraffe. An elephant. A flamingo. All are visible. 

Two trees. Two dead trees. 
I found it to be a sobering sight.

Because sin, the sin inside me, comes to mind with the strangler tree. Sin is like that little parasite. It just needs a beachhead, an entry point. Unnoticed initially - but slowly it grows and spreads. Gradually, imperceptibly, it chokes the spiritual life and godly longings out of me and it leaves me hollow, even though I look much the same from the outside. How does Paul express it? Ah yes, 'having a form of godliness, but denying its power' (2 Timothy 3.5). James narrates the story of the strangler well: 'After desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death' (James 1.15).

Because evil, the evil around me, comes to mind with the carved tree. All of creation is not just groaning (Romans 8.22), it is striving. Society and its systems are soaked in selfishness and rivalry, setting people up for success by learning to step on each other in order to attain it. The law of the jungle. Be it locally, nationally or globally - the pictures are there for those with eyes to see. The climbing up. The stepping on. 'I saw something else under the sun ... in the place of justice - wickedness was there ... I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person's envy of another. This too is meaningless.' (Ecclesiastes 3.16; 4.4).

The strangler tree is still alive. 
The carved tree is an ongoing project.
The sobering continues...

But so also must the discipline of confession. It needs to continue as well. Keeping short accounts with God and with others. Living in the power of the cross and the Spirit. Flushing out the ficus before it establishes itself. And the discipline of praise must also continue. The outstretched arms that push and prod their way upwards towards the king need to go to work for justice - and then become outstretched in praise of the king of kings. This is the hope. These are the ways to handle sin in our hearts and evil in our societies.

nice chatting



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