The tree of life:
The tree of life is a nice thing.  My older brother, a person of enormous knowledge even from childhood, once took us all to see a Shaker community, no longer used but lovingly preserved.  He explained that the Shakers were a celibate protestant denomination flourishing mostly in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, drawing converts who sought refuge from the religions and social turmoil of the times.  They had no children, but they would take in homeless children.  According to my brother, those who had grown up under the protection of the society had a childhood that was well regulated, loving and nurturing.  They were well prepared to live in an outside world however troubling.  The numbers of the community declined.

The Shakers were interested among other things in cleanliness, and the buildings we visited were built along clean lines.  They had invented wood stoves for heat that were obviously more efficient than the Franklin stove and even better than the ordinary pot bellied stove.  They invented the circular saw.  The buildings were of plank.  They invented the flat broom.  The old fashioned “witches’ broom” or besom is round; the flat Shaker broom can be turned one way to achieve a faster sweep over an area or turned sideways to give an extra vigorous scrub to a stubborn spot.  There were pegs on the walls so everything could be hung up and the floor kept clean.  Even chairs were hung up on the pegs.

My brother has in his home a print of a painting by a Shaker woman.  She had a vision of the tree of life and produced the painting.  It is a beautiful print, with careful well balanced composition, understated colors and an air of austere grace quite appropriate to Shaker views. 

The odd thing is that there are not more artistic representations of the tree of life.  There are any number of paintings that show the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Both trees were planted by God in the Garden of Eden, according to Genesis.  Adam and Eve were invited to eat of any tree in the garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  In other words, the tree of life was not off limits. 

Adam and Eve ate from the forbidden tree and God retaliated by expelling them from the Garden, primarily so they could not eat from the tree of life.

Scripture plays mind games on you.  This is one of them.  Adam and Eve are seen being terribly punished and all their descendants with them for the disobedience of eating from that tree.  But wait a minute.  How could they have possibly known that it was wrong to disobey God if they had no knowledge of good and evil?  And what other way was there to get that knowledge?  It seems like the most forgivable of offences. 

The worst thing about being excluded from the Garden is the loss of the constant and direct communication with God.  The next worst thing is the loss of the constant interaction with loved ones.  So far as the loss of a comfortable existence, that is less of a problem.  The Garden was not that much nicer in terms of animal comfort than a good modern home with plumbing, central heat and air and a well stocked refrigerator.  God’s reason for putting us all out was to keep us from eating from the tree of life, which would have given us immortality.  In pursuit of this he placed cherubim and a flaming sword between us and the garden.

So next to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the important thing in the garden is the tree of life.  Yet central though it is, it is rare to have it represented.  There have been cultures in the past, Assyrian, Armenian, Indian, Egyptian and Teutonic, which have had traditions of such a tree and have represented it.  The biblical tree of life has been represented in the Jewish cabala.  The Cabalistic version is a pattern featuring decorated, connected circles.  The Shaker version also features decorated, connected circles.  That seems very odd.  Aside from the Shaker painting, based on the vision of a single woman, I have encountered no other Christian representation of this very central object. 

In a whimsical mood, I wonder how I would represent it.  Since nothing dies in paradise, the tree should now be very old and very large.  Obviously it should be very beautiful.  Since Adam was directed only to eat fruit, the tree must have been full grown before Adam and Eve arrived in the first week of creation.  God entered the Garden to quiz Adam during, “the cool of the day.”  I take it to mean that it was a cold day.  There were seasons.  There were tree rings.  If you bored a core out of the tree you could count the rings back to the first year.  Past that, there would be no rings. 

There are a number of species of trees that different traditions have called the tree of life.  One of them so worshiped in India is a kind of fig, the banyan.  The Banyan is a rather strange looking tree.  It starts as an epiphyte, a growth on the bark of another tree.  From there it grows upward, and it drops a leader which reaches the ground and sets up a root system.  Over time it continues to drop such feeders producing aerial prop roots.  Effectively they are auxiliary trunks.  If I chose a banyan, I would have a tree that grew down as well us up.

Each of us has a personal tree we share only with our siblings.  It is our family tree.  Like a Banyan, it extends up and down, including not only our ancestors but all descendants of those ancestors.  I may be overreaching myself, but it seems to me that the family tree is indeed the tree of life.  It will not grant you immortality, but if you stay with it your family can endure indefinitely.

I have likened this understanding, which is that long term fertility depends on limiting mating pool size, to the Holy Grail (December 4, 2008.  But the Holy Grail is a remedy, the cure for a curse.  The curse is certainly upon us.  Birth rates are falling all over the world and no attempt to change that has been significantly successful.  This, once the details are worked out and people understand, will work.  But the tree of life somehow seems to offer more.  It is a blessing without a preexisting curse.  That makes it nicer.
In that context, what I am offering here is the tree of life itself.  Understand me, and you will have its blessing, provided you can get enough others to accompany you.  On that, however, you may have a problem.  So far, in trying to communicate this, the response is as if just about every mortal I have spoken to or written to has a forbidding angel with a flaming sword to keep that person away from the tree.

There have been 1,021 visitors so far.  This is research not advice.  Linton Herbert

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