All anyone around the church office could talk about this past week was the early winter storm that blew through Southern California. Most of us were talking about a night of rain and winds as if we had just survived an Arctic expedition.
(Note to anyone who lives in places where they really get winter: We SoCalers are wimps. A little rain and the newscasts "go live from our Storm Center" and nobody leaves the house. Those of us in Orange County are even bigger wimps. We consider it cold if we have to wear socks or long pants.)
When a storm hits in Southern California, our biggest concerns are slick freeways, land slides and fallen trees. And on this day, the conversation was about our worship director who had to stay home after the storm to remove a tree that had fallen the night before. It happens every year, during a particularly harsh and blustery storm, many of the biggest and most beautiful trees are revealed for the mere surface decorations that they are.
When we think of trees, it's easy to wax nostalgic about something that has been planted for fruit, for shade, and for beauty that has endured the test of time. We think of oaks that are older than our country or redwoods that have been here since the days of Christ. But often the trees that line our streets or fill our yards have not developed the root systems that will hold when the days turn difficult. So a storm comes and the roads are blocked, the landscape littered with fallen trees. Not snapped off, but uprooted. A tragedy not of frailty but of a lack of depth.
Too often this is the picture of the church that so many have today. We look large and bustling, filled with people and programs--until a storm hits. And because so few of us are deeply rooted in our Christian communities, we pull out and head for another place where the winds are calm and the sky is blue. And the church falls.
The Bible says that people who are deeply rooted in the wisdom of God are like trees by a river that are well rooted and watered (Ps 1:1). Paul prays for his followers to be "rooted and grounded in love" (Eph 3:17). The life of the believer and the community of God's people are to be like trees with deep roots that can last out the storm.
This leads me to reflect once again on what I referred to as the spiritual discipline of "stability". Deep rooting requires two things: lots of watering and lots of time. For a Christian to be rooted and deep, for churches to be able to offer shelter and shade, both need long steady drinks from the river of God's word and Spirit. Christians and communities alike need to be planted on the truth and wisdom of God that runs deep. Like a river than can cut through a mountain side, the word of God is the only source for grounding our churches and our lives.
But rooting also takes time. The longer we stay in a Christian community that drinks from the river of God's word and wisdom, the deeper our roots become in the character of God. The longer we remain the more intertwined our roots become, our lives more deeply a part of each other, more able to stand firm when the winds come. Then deeply rooted, our lives and communities are there when people need us: when the hungry need friut, when the harshness of life send people looking for a shady spot to rest, when those who have lived in barren lands need to be reminded of lasting beauty.