Down and in

Down and in

I stand under this massive oak in a fine mist.

It is the only one of the four trees on my property that is healthy.  And how glad I am for it.  (Except for the raking.)  It is the dominant tree in my block: towering, strong, solid, secure.

I will come back to my oak.  But first, here is this morning’s Scripture, spoken by the Anointed One, elaborating on his purpose for those he heals and sets free:

to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.  (Isaiah 61: 2c-3)

As I contemplate the transformation that God brings into the lives of those who turn to him, I see two movements at work – downward and inward – in a kind of spiritual replacement therapy.

 As you can see, as the Lord works top-down, from the head to the whole body, at the same time he penetrates from the outside in.

We no longer express grief by donning ashes.  But I wanted the visual connection, so I grabbed some of the residue of a recent fire and took my sooty hand outside.  Lyrics from a James Taylor song popped up in my mind:

At that time my heart was all broke
I looked like ashes and smelled like smoke

Many people in our country feel like that right now.  They have experienced loss: of a loved one, of a business, of income, of health.  Such loss can lead to a more insidious spirit of despair, a soul-gripping, lead-heavy meaninglessness.

I watch the light rain slowly rinse away the ashes on my hand.  How does God get beneath the surface to that core of despair?  By giving us a new identity.  He crowns us with beauty in his eyes.  Anoints us with oil.  Dresses us in robes of righteousness.

All accomplished through the death of the Suffering Servant, Jesus.

Which brings me back to the tree.  At the core of grief and despair is impermanence.  So, he plants us in his grace as permanently as this towering oak, which presided in its youth over the farmlands that predated this neighborhood.

As I place my foot between two massive roots, I want this promise to be a fresh reality in my life.  This is why Paul prayed that the Ephesians would be “rooted and grounded in love.” (Eph. 3:17)

Being transformed by Christ’s love, I want to be a living, lasting display of his beauty.

Lord, root us in your love that we may be transformed.  When we are overwhelmed by grief, when we are oppressed by the impermanence of life, remind us of our new identity in your Son. 

Reader: What mental picture in this verse (i.e. tree, crown, robes) speaks to you today?

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Bruce Van Patter

As a freelance illustrator, graphic recorder, and author, Bruce is on a lifelong journey to delight in the handiwork of the Creator. And he’s always ready for fellow travelers.