What I Learned From Trees (Part 2)

What do you think is the largest single organism in the world? Not, sure? Read on to find out.

         Celebrating Christian Community

Although I mostly grew up in Southern California, I am a Colorado girl at heart. Both of my parents grew up there and I still have numerous extended family members who reside in various parts of the state. During my first six years of living there and through many subsequent visits, my roots sank deep; especially out on the plains where the antelope really do play. Speaking of roots, one of the many things I love about Colorado is the Quaking Aspen tree. When I recently decided to do a bit of research on the aspen, I discovered some interesting parallels between aspen trees and us as members of the body of Christ.

Now back to the original question. According to some scientists, the largest and perhaps oldest single organism is a grove of Aspen trees in Fishlake National Forest in central Utah. This grove is named ‘Pando’ (Latin for ‘I spread’). Since Aspens primarily expand and regenerate from a common root system, all trees in a grove are related (clones), therefore a clone of aspen trees is a single organism. Personally, I would like to think that the body of Christ, spread throughout the world and history, is the largest single organism. What could a grove of Aspen trees have in common with the body of Christ and us as individual believers? Let me explain.

Aspen leaves wave back and forth “quake”–even in the slightest breeze–due to the unique structure of the aspen’s leaves and leafstalks. Aspens grow straight and tall with the leaves appearing mostly on the upper portion of a slender trunk to catch the sun. On the surface, they appear delicate, almost fragile with their slender white trunks rising to the sky. However, their strength is hidden below the surface in their intricate root system. This unique root system allows them to thrive in rugged, often arid environments and quickly reestablish after forest fires. Aspens expand and are interrelated through a common root system rather than through germination–hence creating a single organism out of a grove of trees.

What about us, the body of Christ? Oh, that we might be sensitive to the gentle stirrings of the Spirit calling us to love and obedience just as the aspen leaves respond to the slightest breeze. May we too reach upward to God our Father for the nourishment we need and sink our roots deeply in Him gaining strength for challenges of life. Perhaps the most poignant lesson we can learn from the aspen is the beauty and necessity of community. Yes, we need that time of solitude and being still with God, but we also need to be deeply rooted in community–our fellow believers–those who are living as well as that great cloud of witnesses throughout history upon which we build our faith.

Richard Foster in Celebration of Discipline states, “We must seek out the recreating stillness of solitude if we want to be with others meaningfully. We must seek the fellowship and accountability of others if we want to be alone safely. We must cultivate both if we are to live in obedience.” We are not meant to walk this journey alone. Just as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit live in community, we are also meant to live and love in community. Additionally, spiritual formation happens most profoundly in community.

So what is Christian community?

We catch glimpses of community in Scripture (Acts 2:42-47 and Colossians 3:12-17, for example). In Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us, Adele Calhoun states “Christian community exists when believers connect with each other in authentic and loving ways that encourage growth in Christ. They engage in transparent relationships that cultivate, celebrate and make evident Christ’s love for all the world.” She also points out that community includes...

  • cultivating authentic relationships that connect you to God and his plan to serve and love this world.
  • exercising your gifts in fellowship with others.
  • engaging in hospitality that promotes honest sharing and caring.
  • participating in a small group or covenant group.
  • sharing life with an accountability partner or prayer partner.
  • engaging in mission with others.

Why should we practice community?

According to Ronald Rolheiser, we practice community "So as not to be alone – alone in our joys, alone in our suffering, alone in the everydayness of our lives, alone in the important passages of our lives…to tell people we love them, and hopefully, to hear them tell us the same thing.” And it's not just the body of Christ that needs authentic community, the world also needs to know there is a place where they can come so as not to be alone.

Try this: One of the ways to foster community is to listen. Ask someone to tell you their story and really listen. Be present with that person and thank them for sharing a part of themselves. What did you learn about God, your friend and yourself?

Additional Resources:

  • Life Together - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  • The Safest Place on Earth - Larry Crabb
  • Reaching Out - Henri J.M. Nouwen