And then we came home one blustery Saturday to find our eighty-year-old poplar lying prone across our garden, its massive trunk stretching across sidewalk and boulevard and fifteen feet out into the street.
God has ways of making you take notice. The tree fell in the one direction that would do no property damage -- straight south away from our house and toward the little apple tree we planted five years ago to commemorate Anne's birth. The loss of that apple tree would have grieved our hearts. The poplar landed less than a millimeter away from the Apple's trunk, ripping off six limbs, but left it standing. It missed a tiny saskatoon on the other side by mere inches, and a parked truck by mere feet. Yet it destroyed nothing. I have had prophetic dreams, waking in a cold sweat with a sense of urgency that haunts me until the dream is interpreted; I broke into the same cold sweat and felt that same urgency, as I surveyed that 600-pound sign from God.
We had known for years that the poplar was dying: it sent out no suckers; spawned no new branches; but we hoped the Apple would have a chance to mature before it lost the shade and shelter of the moribund tree, and we had plans to remove the poplar safely when signs of rot began to show. Fond plans! The arborist said he had never seen a tree, so completely rotten inside, that was still standing; nor one so completely rotten that was so apparently sound. But he also said the Apple would survive the damage.
That was Saturday. And Sunday I came to church, and experienced once again the sparse attendance at Community of Learners, and watched the children being sent away from their proper role in the Worship to Sunday-School Childcare for their elder's comfort. I endured the frowns of elder women as I kept my little ones in, their scowls as Rachel pointed excitedly at the Cross and called "Jesus! Jesus!"; I thought that we have no missions; no foundations; how new families come once, twice, three times and then no more; no real growth these last fifteen years or more; and I wept. No suckering, no new branches: was ever a Church so completely rotten inside, and so apparently sound?
And then, I remembered the Apple Tree. Our signs of life are small; they are distinct from the formal structures under Vestry and the ACW that have marked our church for so long: Inn from the Cold started by one or two visionaries, Community of Learners an initiative of three women. Our fresh start with a separate service for those disruptive, wine-skin rendering elements is perhaps the trunk of a new tree; and without knowing it some of us have already been grafted onto that tree. I wept more. I know that when the remaining structures crash around us, limbs will be ripped off. We will enter the Kingdom maimed. My heart is breaking for the suffering that lies behind us and before us, and an early blizzard howls outside. But outside my parlour window, small but sound and well-rooted, a little Apple-tree leans against the wind.