Written in the small hours, out of the loneliness of ministry...
The tree on the hillside...
I don't know how long it has clung to this steep, green slope
Or how many times I have failed to see it
To really see it...
But looking more closely I see.
How its ancient boughs and branches have bowed.
How they have bent or been bent, really
By wind twisted and rain and storm shaped
and sometimes by sun shine too
Night and day ravaged over long time.
The tree on the hillside...
it should have slipped down by now, surely
Or fallen, through flood and flash
Or at very least it should be dry and cracked by now
And beyond repair, or beyond restoring...
But no. There it remains.
With each passing year and season a little more deformed.
A little uglier – bald by now
A little more perched on its precipice
A little more unbelievable.
A little more beautiful, I think.
Spring will bring back bud to the tree on the hillside
When it will smile back at all winter has done
Or tried its best to do
And the tree will declare itself alive –
Here I am, still standing.
The tree on the hillside
has ridden the blows of time, of life.
Some of the blows will have been glancing ones
Some of them full-on, prolonged assaults.
But it has kept coming back,
Year on year
Where mighty oaks are now upturned...
It doesn't stand straight
But it stands
And where I might question why the tree is here
Summer and spring will answer.
Here I am still standing
and I will see the tree a place for cows to scratch
and sheep to shade, for birds to roost
for ramblers to rest...
a home for God's smaller creatures.
There is more to my tree on the hillside
Than really meets the eye.
It has roots, strong though gnarled
They go deep and wide
giving my underestimated 'shrub' a life and strength
a life it drinks from the earth
and a life it accepts from heaven, too
A life that it shares...
I see you and I see myself in the tree on the hillside
It seems alone and pointless
It seems weak and yet is curiously strong
It seems ugly but it is beautiful in its way
In purpose and design
It seems forgotten but it is not
It seems to need no-one
But is known by others
Giving to them like a friend
And receiving from them...
The tree on the hillside is a teacher...
The lesson is that storms will shape us
And our suffering too...
Like a near broken thing, remaining
Teaching that I may seem like a lonely tree.
But I am standing, still standing...
And we stand best when we stand together!"
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit,
while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.
You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.
Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.
Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
"I am the vine; you are the branches.
If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."