Years ago a family vacation out west landed us in the middle of some of the largest living organisms on this earth, the Giant Sequoias, Sequoiadendron giganteum. They really are an awe-inspiring marvel of God’s creation. (And yes, I know we over-use the word “awe,” but it is indeed appropriate here in its truly unique sense.) These noble goliaths are the world’s largest single trees with a height of up to 279 feet. That’s about as tall as a football field is long! Just 7 yards short. Not only is their heavenward reach staggering, the bole (trunk) of these massive trees can grow to be thicker than the Great Wall of China is tall, having widths of up to 26 feet. Our whole family of 6 joining hands couldn’t even reach around them. It’s really incomprehensible if you’ve never seen them in real life, kind of like Niagara Falls. Standing beside one of these giants, a phrase from an old song sung by The Regeneration came to my mind: “How small we are, how little we know.” (The line comes from a very profound poem written by Earl Wilson, Jr., which you’ll find printed at the end of this article.)
On our trip, following a short car ride from El Capitan to the Mariposa Grove, we were able to stroll among these 500 or so ancient, towering plants. The kids couldn’t control their exclamations and observations, but neither could mom and dad. We read all the plaques placed throughout the wooded hillsides which labeled them with specified height-diameter-circumference as well as other pertinent information, historic significance, and often names given to them by park rangers or visitors.
As you might imagine, 500 of these giants took up many acres of land, so we chose to do the suggested guided tour to see more of the area than we were willing to trek through on foot with our kids. The ride was informative as well as beautiful, not to mention scary, as a thunderstorm rolled through while we were on the tour, but that’s a story for another day. We learned so many more things from the studied tour guide than we had picked up by viewing exhibits and reading signs. The most powerful and memorable fact for me had to do with the sequoias’ roots.
Adults all realize the purpose of roots for all plants is to take in water and minerals from the soil. We understand that the roots anchor the tree in storms, and the Giant Sequoias’ roots are no exception. There are some amazing differences in the roots of these gargantuan trees that set them apart from most other trees. They have relatively shallow roots for their size, averaging only 5 feet in-depth underground. The roots are also far-reaching, commonly extending 100 feet from the bole and covering as much as 1-4 acres! Shocking, I know. Especially when you are standing among them or looking at pictures of a grove of these redwoods. The eye observes and the mind contemplates their proximity to one another and instinctively realizes that the individual trees do not stand an acre apart. So what’s going on?
Roots of these massive plant creatures intertwine. Underneath the soil each Giant Sequoia’s roots lengthen and spread and weave their way among other roots branching out and intertwining. Each individual tree’s roots may spread and intertwine with many other individual’s roots spreading out through their plot of growth. They form a subterranean network.
Even more amazing is a natural process they go through called “root grafting.” In root grafting these tangled roots rub against each other, their root bark rubs off, and over time the roots grow and fuse together offering stability in the winds and a sharing of primary resources and secondary compounds produced by the trees themselves. They become interdependent, helping one another out.
As our tour guide gave us his rehearsed description and explanation of the roots of these sequoias, I was overcome with excitement. My mind immediately went to community. To not just this grove of trees, this community, but to community within the body of Christ.
We toss the word community around these days in an off-hand way. It’s a buzzword for this generation. We’ve trivialized it to the point it’s just a grandiose word for your group of friends, those you hang out and socialize with. We want to be a part of the forest and still be our own individual tree. We want to be accepted and included and involved (when we’re not too busy!), but we don’t want the responsibility of reciprocating that acceptance and inclusion and involvement in the lives and problems of others. We sacrifice relationships and the community that is built when we screen our calls to avoid that difficult encounter or manipulate a social setting to our liking.
But Biblical community calls us to much more. Biblical community is very much like a stand of Giant Sequoias. In Biblical community we are each individuals, but our roots are linked and intertwined by choice. We grow together through the mundane, the devastation, and the wearying, as well as through the joys, triumphs, and successes. We are each growing and using our own roots, but we’re there to sustain, strengthen and hold up our fellows in community during the blustery storms that threaten us. We affect each other. We distribute to those within the community so that needs are met. We help one another adapt and learn and become a stronger tree. The concept of Biblical community is woven throughout the Apostle Paul’s writings, but is summed up nicely in the following verses:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Philippians 2:3-4
Biblical community involves looking out for the interests of others. Helping stabilize them when the storms come by praying, encouraging, serving, coming alongside them. Sharing resources from my root to yours and yours to mine, mentoring, tutoring, feeding, financing, hugging, teaching, carrying, loving.
We are small. We are interdependent. We long to be the mighty Sequoiadendron giganteum of the world who stand strong, intertwined, sharing roots and resources, pointing men to God!
How Small We Are How Little We Know
We laugh, we cry,
We live, we die,
and when we’re gone, the world goes on.
We love, we hate, we learn too late,
How small we are, how little we know.
We hear, we touch, we talk too much,
of things we have no knowledge of.
We see, we feel,
yet can’t conceal,
How small we are, how little we know.
See how the time moves swiftly by,
We don’t know how, we don’t know why.
We reach so high, and fall so low,
The more we learn, the less we know.
Too soon the time to go will come,
Too late the will to carry on,
And so we leave too much undone,
How small we are how little we know.
~ Earl Wilson, Jr. ~