Having been down this road before, I arose early the following morning in order to inspect the damage. Sure enough, right in the midst of our property lay a huge old oak tree that, despite giving all it had in a fierce nocturnal struggle, had nonetheless lost the battle and succumbed to nature’s onslaught.
Needless to say, I was crestfallen. To begin with, on a selfish note, there was now a large mess that had to be cleaned up. I knew that the chain saw would soon roar; and my muscles would soon ache.
More to the point, a huge hole had now been created in the overhead canopy. To a certain extent, the beauty of our patch of woods had now been diminished. But my sorrow involved more than this; for over the years, I had come to know, love, and respect this grand old tree. Its great size alone testified to the fact that it was older, larger, and more storied than the numerous smaller trees that struggled upward beneath its canopy. It had clearly been one of a select few like itself in our woods!
Thus, it was sad to see the broken trunk of this great tree now stretched out upon the ground amidst so much crushed and shattered foliage. And yet, even as I viewed it in its now humbled form, I could not help but reflect upon its former majesty.
Who knew when this great tree had first sprung to life? Who knew how many years, decades, or even centuries it had stood? Who could even begin to count the innumerable limbs, leaves, and/or acorns it had discarded annually ever since? And who knew how many lesser trees now growing in the vicinity owed their very existence to the spawn of this one tree?
Beyond this, who could count the numbers of generations of birds, squirrels, raccoons, and other arboreal creatures that had sheltered in its bows? For that matter, had it been alive to witness Native Americans? Or pioneers? After all, men like Sam Houston and Davy Crockett had passed through this area. Did this one tree observe these or other such men as they passed by? Oh, if trees could only talk?!
Apparently, I am not alone in my musings. The sixth century B.C. Prophet Zechariah also mourned the felling of certain great trees in his day. In chapter 11, verse 2 of his eponymous Old Testament Book, he writes: “Wail, O cypress, for the cedar has fallen, for the glorious trees are ruined! Wail, oaks of Bashan, for the thick forest has been felled!”
How do we respond when great trees fall? To begin with, just as I had done, by reflecting on their worth. But perhaps we can and should do even more. How so? Maya Angelou offers one such way in her poem titled “When Great Trees Fall”…
“When great trees fall, rocks on distant hills shudder, lions hunker down in tall grasses, and even elephants lumber after safety. When great trees fall in forests, small things recoil into silence, their senses eroded beyond fear.
When great souls die, the air around us becomes light, rare, sterile. We breathe, briefly. Our eyes, briefly, see with a hurtful clarity. Our memory, suddenly sharpened, examines, gnaws on kind words unsaid, promised walks never taken.
Great souls die and our reality, bound to them, takes leave of us. Our souls, dependent upon their nurture, now shrink, wizened. Our minds, formed and informed by their radiance, fall away. We are not so much maddened as reduced to the unutterable ignorance of dark, cold caves.
And when great souls die, after a period, peace blooms, slowly and always irregularly. Spaces fill with a kind of soothing electric vibration. Our senses, restored, never to be the same, whisper to us. They existed. They existed. We can be. Be and be better. For they existed.”
Angelou is obviously speaking here to the impact of significant people on our lives. Her assertion is that their passing should then inspire us to do more than merely reflect upon them. It should compel us to action. That is to say that we should always honor those who came before us by being and doing just as they did – which is to glorify God by being all we can be and doing all we can do in our time even as they did in theirs. Let me just say that I wholeheartedly concur!
Now for the relevance of all of this. Earlier today, a mighty oak in my life fell. His name was Ronald Lewis Jordan; and he was a clearly what I consider a holdover from the old growth forest of mighty men whose towering presence in my life was God-ordained. An apt description of Ron can be found in Psalm 1:1-3:
1Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers,
2but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.
3That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither - whatever they do prospers.
Fifteen years my senior, he nonetheless humbled himself and served under me as Church Executive during my role as Senior Pastor in the last church I served for nearly twenty years before my retirement. Along the way, like a mighty oak tree, he clung ever downward to his roots while always spreading his branches ever skyward in an attempt to glorify Almighty God and His Son, Jesus Christ!
A gifted administrator, preacher, teacher, and in his own right, even scholar, Ron was both a “Jack” and a “Master” of multiple ministry trades. He was passionate about the Gospel, and fiercely determined to press its cause at every opportunity. Yet, he was wise enough to know that the Gospel must ever be acculturated; and he therefore worked tirelessly to make the Gospel relevant in our context.
In my role as Senior Pastor, he, as Church Executive, was for me both a mentor and a parishioner. In this sense, he not only taught me, but also learned of me. And for this reason, I will forever be grateful to him - both for the wisdom he proffered me in the many times I displayed woeful ignorance, and for the affirmation he gave me in the pitifully few times I displayed Godly wisdom.
The wisdom he expressed to me came from the countless experiences he had garnered before we ever even met. In this sense, his roots ran ever deep. Conversely, the graciousness he showed me no doubt came from the future he always chose to embrace. In this sense, his branches soared ever skyward. Like so many others for whom I now speak, I was blessed just to sit among the foliage he exuded, and enjoy the fruit he produced.
In the Bible, the venerable Job acknowledges that broken trees are all too often remembered no more (24:20). Yet, in chapter 14, verse 7, he also affirms that “There is hope for a tree: If it is cut down, it will sprout again, and its tender shoots will not fail.”
Due, in part, to the ravishes of nature, my brother, Ron Jordan, has now been cut down. As much as I am able, I now aim to see to it that he is remembered! More importantly, I hereby testify to the fact that there is hope, for because of his faith in Jesus Christ, Ron Jordan will indeed spring forth again into newness of life. His future is assured as he now sprouts afresh and anew in a whole new world!
In the meantime, as one who suddenly finds himself exposed in the huge void created by this one man’s passing, I pledge to struggle ever upward for my own God-ordained place in the sun, not for self-aggrandizement, but only so that I too might glorify God by having a similar impact in the lives of others as did he! If you knew Ron, then you also know that is exactly what he would have wanted.
POEM SOURCE: https://poems.com/poem/when-great-trees-fall/.
SCRIPTURE SOURCES: https://biblehub.com/niv/psalms/1.htm; and