How big is a tree?

How might we measure
a mustard tree, Lord?
By metres or cubits?
Why, no, he replied,
For the measure that matters
Is this: hospitality.

How big is a tree?

Can it offer a perch to bird on the wing?
Can the pair of small sparrows
(once bought for a penny)
Have room here to build
an affordable nest?
Can they nurture their young,
In safety away from the predators
Prowling the night?
That is the way that we measure a tree.

Like the wilderness oaks
That offered their shelter
to Abraham, Sarah, and all that they had,
In order that he would be able
to offer the same to the visiting strangers
Who brought them the promise of hope
And the chance to fulfil the command
To be fruitful and fill all the land.

Like the wilderness broom bush
That gave to Elijah permission to stop,
And to sit and give voice to his grief and despair,
a place to find rest and be nourished
So he could continue his journey
To and come to the cleft in the rock
Where he met God in silence.

Like the sycamore tree
That was sturdy enough
To carry the weight
of a man who was rich
but had nothing of worth.

Like the tree that was felled
To be shaped like a cross
And offer a place
For all the world’s pain
to be faced and embraced
by the man who said,
That’s how you measure a tree.

When we measure with numbers
And money and cost
And reduce all the value
To what can be counted
We’ll find we have lost
All sense of what counts:

Our chances to offer the shade of a tree in the heat of the sun;
the grace to receive, sit down and admit that we cannot go on;
a way to stand tall when we’re burdened by all of the things we have done.
A place to feel safe, to love and be loved: a place to call home.

Hands holding a hazel nut

The seed is so small.
It’s a universe held
in the palm of God’s hand.
A hand that’s the only hospitable scale
for the measure of worth
For the God who loves everything.


Advent doodle 4: the house on the rocks

When I read the parable of the wise and foolish builders, I find myself wondering how the metaphor of a house that can stand firm against the storm, ensuring the safety of the house-builder, jives with the command to be hospitable. There is work to be done, here, I think, about the relationship between metaphors of judgement and practical care and humanity, but for now, here is today’s doodle, which offers the strong, rock-founded house as a place in which kingdom-hospitality might be offered.

From Matthew 7:21-25

‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven.  ‘Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock.

A little pre-Lent ramble

Today’s reading at the morning Eucharist was Mark 7.1-13.

I can’t think of an instance in the gospels when the Pharisees would have come away from a conversation with Jesus thinking, ‘That went well, I think we really convinced him this time.’  And they try so hard, so very hard, to get it right, and they always miss what’s right in front of them.

Today, this reading comes across not as a last Alleluia before the fast begins, but perhaps more as a comment on Lent itself and how we keep it.  It reminds us that the whole point of the law when it was given was to give another way, alongside all the many other gifts and self-revelations of God through the centuries, for us to ‘learn to be God’s people once again.’

It invites us to think about how whatever Lenten discipline we’ve chosen to undertake is going to help us draw closer to God – and warns us against anything that might inadvertently become an end in itself and so drive a wedge between us and God.

It took the ancient Israelites 40 years – a whole lifetime – to learn to be God’s people, and they still kept getting it wrong, just as we do. The law that was given to them during this time at Sinai was supposed to help, but in every generation since, God’s people have done as the gospel’s Pharisees tend to do, and made the law into a thing in itself, rather than as a way of learning to be People of God. All that time in the wilderness, trying to work out how to do it right, and all along, through the visceral and dramatic pillars of fire and cloud, and through the daily gift of manna from heaven, God was right there with them, inviting his beloved children to trust him, to draw up a chair at his table, sit and eat.

The poor Pharisees in the gospel reading are in a similar boat. They try so hard to get it right, and all the time they’re missing what’s right in front of them: Jesus’ friends, with their unwashed hands, are drawing up a chair every day and sitting down to eat with God.  I pray that when the last judgement comes, all who tried so hard, yet missed the point, will be confronted with the raw love and generosity and hospitality of God that says, ‘Sit, and eat’, and finally reply, ‘Thank you, I’d love to’.

This Lent, I pray that whatever we ‘do’ may be a way to draw closer, to become God’s people once again, whether that process takes 40 days or 40 years. I pray that it will be a time when we can hear God’s invitation and respond by drawing our chair closer – in worship, work, leisure, and rest – and enjoy table fellowship with our Lord.

Morning Prayer doodle – how do you measure a tree?

‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’

Mustard Tree

I love how Jesus measures tree size not in cubits (or whatever), but in hospitality. How big is the tree?  Oh, big enough for birds to make their home there. Big enough to offer safety and hospitality. Big enough for them to lay their eggs and raise their chicks.

We could ask ourselves, how big is my church? Oh, big enough for people to find themselves at home there. Big enough to offer safety and hospitality. Big enough that people will feel it’s a place they can bring their children.

The mustard seed

How should one measure the stature of a tree? Its girth in centimetres? Its height in metres?  Jesus rarely measured anything quantitively, for him it was all about the quality. The stature of a mustard tree, quite clearly in Jesus’ mind, is measured by its ability to host nesting birds – to give them a place to be safe, to raise their young, and to fly home to.

If that is what the kingdom of God is like, and the church is in some way a sign of it, then can we be the kind of church whose stature is measured not by the number who attend, nor by the amount of money in the collection plate (good and helpful though these things are) but by our ability to provide an environment that is safe, that is nurturing, in which people can feel at home. In essence, for Jesus the kingdom of God is about hospitality.  That’s maybe why after the mustard seed he goes on to talk about yeast – the stature of which is measured by its ability to raise a whole loaf, a loaf which can then be broken and shared with friends and strangers.

Our stature, then, as churches, might be best measured by our generosity – our ability to give, to share, to be given, and to be shared. We practice this each week as we share in Holy Communion, and seek to become what we eat – the Body of Christ, Christ who lived a life of hospitality, and enjoyed the hospitality of others, and who spoke of heaven as a sum of many dwelling places and as a great feast.  May we embody the life of heaven here on earth and may our churches be more like the mustard seed and its tree, the yeast and its bread.