The Root of the Matter, Oct. 26
The Root of the Matter, Psalm 1, October 26, 2008
All of nature depends on hidden resources. The great trees send their roots down into the earth to draw up water and minerals. Rivers have their sources in the snow-capped mountains. The most important part of a tree is the part you cannot see, the root system, and the most important part of the Christian’s life is the part that only God sees. Unless we draw upon the deep resources of God by faith, we fail against the pressures of life. (WarrenWiersbe).
AugusteRodin once said, “The world doesn’t lack beauty of life, only the eyes to see it.”
Or, we might add, the desire to dig for it.
An artist teaches us that there is beauty in the roots of a tree. If that’s true, then being rooted in a relationship with God has to yield a masterpiece!
Take the beauty of trees, for example. While many artists in North America are looking upward and painting the fiery beauty of autumn leaves this time of year, in China an artist named Fang Peichun is out in the forest looking down, crawling on his hands and knees, looking for beauty in the tangle of tree roots.
Fang, you see, is a root-carver, following an ancient Chinese tradition of coaxing art from a part of the natural world that everyone else ignores. Out there in the forest, Fang sees hidden beauty where others see dirt. “The period of searching for tree roots is the most exciting part for me,” says the energetic old man. “Sometimes I even dream of finding some tree roots in strange shapes and have some illusions.”
Fang has been carving roots for more than 50 years. He began his obsession with roots when, as a boy, he encountered a farmer who had just dug up a knotweed tuber, which Fang immediately envisioned as being formed in the shape of a child. Fang tried to buy the root from the farmer, but the old man, being superstitious, believed that eating the root would enable him to live forever. Still, Fang began to see the potential for beautiful images coaxed from the most utilitarian part of the tree.
While other kinds of art are subjective and are created out of the artist’s own vision, tree root art takes its cue from the natural shape of the root. Root carving is thus a cooperative effort — a combination of “man’s work and God’s work,” according to Fang. No two roots are alike. Every discovery of a new root yields new possibilities and different pictures to imagine.
One of his favorite works is the “BathingBeach” with several women resting on a root-made beach. In the middle, a young couple lies against a rock, while another girl is ready to jump in the water; to the right, an old man sits on the beach, in thought. Another work titled “Happy” depicts a longhaired woman bathing, her arms and legs stretched elegantly. Other works depict animals, historical figures and even written Chinese characters like “Shou” which means “long live” in Mandarin.
Root art is a reminder to us that often it is the things beneath the surface, the hidden yet practical things, which are most important. While fruit trees yield a harvest of food, maples and oaks provide autumn glory, and evergreens yield a harvest of wood for building, none of them can do so without the foundational and functional support of a good root system. It is the beauty of rooted-ness that makes it all possible.
While trees live or die depending upon their roots, it’s clear that we, too, live and die according to how rooted we are in the things that matter. Being rooted spiritually is a thing of beauty, which is the essential message of Psalm 1.
Psalm 1 sets the tone by focusing on true happiness found as our roots sink deep in God's Word. The rest of the psalms are largely focused on living a life rooted in God over and against the shallow, self-serving concerns of the “wicked.” At the outset, the psalmist encourages his readers to go deep, to sink proper spiritual roots in the law of God because the growth and fruitfulness of the whole tree, the whole community, is the inevitable result.
The psalmist encourages the community to grow its roots deeply into the “law of the Lord.” Those who “delight in the law of the Lord” and “meditate” on it “day and night” enjoy the same prosperity and health as a tree that is “planted by streams of water” (Psalm 1:2-3). This is a common image in Scripture. Jeremiah, for example, used it to describe the relationship of those who “trust in the Lord” (Jeremiah 17:7-8), and Jesus used the concept of “living water” to describe the nurturing relationship of God to the Samaritan woman (John 4). Paul talks about living a life that is “rooted” in Christ (Colossians 2:6-7). Our willingness to root our lives in a relationship with God, a relationship characterized by obedience, is what yields true happiness and a life that yields “fruit.”
Even in his day, though, the psalmist realized that a rooted obedience to God was a quiet, unassuming, underground way of living compared to the surface concerns of the wicked, whose happiness and perception of reality is inevitably self-centered. For the psalmist, “wickedness” is a catchall phrase for the cultural values of pleasure, instant gratification, rugged individualism and autonomy — values that mark much of our own society. In the world of the wicked, wanting or needing help is seen as a sign of weakness, and obedience to anyone or anything beyond one’s own urges and desires is unthinkable.
That kind of surface living, however, is rootless and ultimately fleeting. Rather than gaining true happiness and prosperity, the wicked are “like chaff” that is blown away in the wind while the good seed remains (Psalm 1:4). We’ve all seen people who have had it all, done it all, reached the pinnacle of worldly prosperity, yet their lives “wither” when confronted with an ultimate crisis.
Don’t be like them, says the psalmist. In fact, one of the major themes of the psalms concerns not being envious at the apparent prosperity of the wicked (Psalm 37:7; 73:3). Their prosperity does not last and their lives cannot hold up to God’s judgment. Without roots to grow on, the wicked eventually “perish.”
The prosperity of the righteous, by contrast, is very real but hidden below the surface, down deep in the roots of a relationship with God. When we have that kind of relationship with God, a relationship based on trust and recognition of our dependence on God vs. our own sinful independence, we are not carried away by the winds of adverse circumstances or challenges to our faith. When we are rooted in God, God “watches over” our way (v. 6). It is the roots that stay, not the leaves that blow away, that are beautiful in God’s eyes.
Bottom line is that when it comes to spiritual matters, it is usually the unseen and unpretentious practices that we engage in that make up the raw root material that God, the master artist, can shape to his image of life for us.
When we study Scripture, meditate on it, obey God’s commandments even when no one is looking, when we practice daily spiritual disciplines, and order our lives according to God’s priorities, God is able to make something spectacular and unique out of each of us.
How are you becoming more firmly rooted in your personal relationship with God? Spiritual disciplines and obedience to God involve some hard work, some digging deep to find the life-giving roots underneath the surface.
Moreover, we have to remember that God did the hardest work by becoming human in Jesus to show us the beauty of a life shaped and carved by God’s love and grace — a perfect marriage of God’s work and man’s work fashioned into a unique and special gift.
Each of us is a unique and special gift of God. Amen.
Weng, Peggy, “Root art,” Shanghai Daily, October 26, 2007. Viewed on the Shanghai Daily Web site: shanghaidaily.com/sp/article.