The Tree at the Centre of the Universe
I used this as a prayer of confession for our Seeds Consecration Service in January. I chose it because one of our covenanting themes, ‘Grow Home’ asks us to re-imagine the vow of chastity in our exploration of community together. I won’t talk alot about what that means here, other than say it is not just about sex, or not having sex. Re-imagining chastity involves deepening our understanding of the connections between flesh and spirit and treating them as sacred. I often say to people that for most of the Seeds mobs chastity has had more to do with how we deal with food rather than sex… but i digress!
It was the vow of chastity, that I thought of when I came across this creative, ‘personal is political’ experiment with regards to fashion and how we clothe our bodies by Kristy Powell. Entitled “One Dress Protest” , it documents her journey and thoughts as she seek to wear one black dress for an entire calendar year. I discovered her blog through Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries.
Kristy’s reflections upon a JC Penny commercial formed the basis of our confession during the liturgy at our recent Seeds Consecration Service.
I played the 30 second video twice and voiced some of her words during the second running.
All the women in this commercial seem to be in the middle of their daily routine. They are sitting in coffee shops descending fire-escapes (seriously?), getting on the subway…
Yet something pulls them away. Almost in mid-stride all of their eyes glaze over (or, in the woman in the coffee shop’s case, in mid-sip) and they glide away from normalcy. Walking away from their already fashionable lives, it’s almost as if they are caught in the orbit of something more powerful than their own free will, like a modern-day pied piper:
In fact, they look eerily similar to lifeless zombies as they move through the streets.
Their numbers grow, but where are they going? Who cares, they don’t seem to mind their marionette-like existence. What has their attention? Surprisingly, the crowd gathers around a tree:
And finally, the payoff – an orange leaf falls to the ground, signifying autumn, which apparently means it’s time to go out and buy some clothes at JC Penney, “where fall fashion is beautiful and affordable.”
Because everyone knows that this time of year—when the leaves explode in color and catch our breath, when the air crisps in our lungs, and when pumpkins and squash abound—is really just a wondrous reminder of our need to go shopping.
God, we confess:
- That the idea that the trees of our world will notify us (women) of when it’s time to return to our favorite shopping centers for our seasonal fashion fix reflects a value that we have been complicit with…
- …that all of creation is at the service of our capacity to buy and look beautiful.
- That our sense of ourselves and the seasons is often shaped in relation to the clothing that we wear, our appearance and social expectations of what is newest and most fashionable.
- That our consumption of both clothing and ideas can be harmful to the environment and to our personal identities.
- That it’s sometimes feels easier to be ‘zombified’ to the power of these forces in our ordinary, everyday lives than to live free.
Having prayed that prayer, as an act of affirmation or absolution today, I want us to hang on to the positive worship potential of the image of a tree at the centre of our lives, our neighbourhoods and our universe.
One of the Biblical Queries from the Seeds Covenant is from Luke 12
“Why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”
In other gospels Jesus tells his followers to ‘consider the tree’. In this instance I think he was probably NOT thinking about Autumn fashion sales.
The tree at the centre is a a powerful archetype. I think of the James Cameron movie, Avatar, where ‘Home Tree’ is the centre of indigenous culture and identity. Living in Footscray alongside many African’s, I think of the Ethiopian flag which bears a great tree, a place of cultural meeting and decision making.
In the Bible the tree at the centre of the Universe is a symbol of power, nation, cultural identity and empire. The Hebrew prophets often use the image in critiquing empires. (Ezekiel 31:13, Judges 9:8-15)
In the same tradition, Jesus describes the alternative Empire of God as being like the smallest of seeds which grows into a great tree where the birds of the air can come and rest in the shade and comfort of its branches.
In the final, heavenly imagery of the Bible (Revelation 22 ), as in the JC Penny ad, there stands at the centre of the city of God, the tree of life.
And so from the most ancient of times, the tree has had a beautiful, organic, life giving power to draw us to it in worship.
As we Covenant today I want you think…
“What is the tree of life at the centre of you own universe, your locality?”
Late in 2009 I had the honour of travelling to California to meet with an important elder and mentor of mine, Ched Myers. One of the special moments we shared was visiting an old Oak Tree. Ched has used the Oak tree as a significant source of reflection upon the ‘signs of the times’ and the meaning of his own life and witness. He traces the story of the Oak from biblical images, through to traditional indigenous uses, through Spanish colonisation, through to their modern day devastation for the development of Californian suburbs.
If I was to visit your neighbourhood what tree would you show me and what stories would it tell?
How might it become of symbol of your covenant to love a particular place?
Beyond autumn fashion week; what ‘signs of the times’ might it speak of?
How might this ‘Tree at the Centre ‘ interrupt your ordinary life and shape your worship and choices in the way you live out the Seeds Covenant in the course of this year?
As your act of absolution I want you to embrace a Seeds ‘stereotype’ and hug a tree. I will ask the children to give everyone a leaf and as we say our covenant prayer at the end of the service I want to ask you to respond by bringing the fallen leaf back to the central tree as a symbol of our prayers for ourselves, others and our places.