The view from the back of our home
“Only God can make a tree …” These words conclude Joyce Kilmer’s iconic poem that was a staple of my fifth grade English studies.
Kilmer’s simple lyric has stayed with me over the years as a vital reference point for the existence of God.
The world has gotten so much more sophisticated since I was in the fifth grade sixty years ago. The advances in science, technology, and medicine are mind-blowing.
With that knowledge has come an increased hubris about humanity’s power. Fewer and fewer Americans go regularly to houses of worship to acknowledge and give thanks to the Eternal One. When they do they look less for serious opportunities to pray and more for cute programs that will keep their children entertained.
Our quantum leaps in human knowledge and understanding blind so many to the reality that the gap between our attainable knowledge and the mysteries of the universe will always be unfathomable. Atheists insist on divorcing God from these mysteries, and that is their right.
Others are arrogant enough to say that if they can’t understand the morality of disease or senseless violence, then there must not be a God.
At the opposite end of the spectrum are those who ascribe every thing that happens to God and see themselves only as puppets doing what they perceive God has told or wants them to do. The dangers of such fanatical fundamentalist belief are too apparent in our world today to require elaboration.
Why cannot more human beings see a sane middle path?
Those who walk that path see creation as the purposeful initiative of a good, caring God who wants us human beings to create a just, caring and compassionate society.
Whether we like it or not (and some do not) we humans are in charge of and responsible for the earth.
We have power far beyond that of any animal to think, communicate and create. We can use that power for good or for ill. Wise religious teachings should inspire us to take good care of this earth and of each other.
- I accept and admire those who work conscientiously toward these ends without acknowledging God’s role.
- I judge people more by their actions than their beliefs.
- I acknowledge that the day may yet come when we human beings can indeed make trees.
Some would say that day is already here. But will we make them from nothing, ex nihilo, as the official phrase puts it? I doubt it.
Even if that happened I would still believe. Why?
As I look behind our home and see the beautiful green foliage waving in the breeze my mind goes back to what I learned by rote in the fifth grade. Now those words form a conclusion I have reached after another sixty years of questioning and struggling:
“Only God can make a tree!”
by Joyce Kilmer
I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth’s flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
(With thanks to Sarah F. Baldwin, my fifth grade teacher: the toughest, most ornery teacher I ever had. Your lessons endure!)