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Following the Great Storm7 months ago
In this week’s blog Philip Dorling, ReSource Minister, draws on his experience as a professional forester to reflect on Isaiah 6; life in the wind-blow after the pandemic; and the new trees growing where old, established, ones have fallen in the storm. Read it carefully and to the end!
Isaiah chapter 6 is just so famous isn’t it? I suspect we all have our own ideas about what it might mean to see the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne with the train of his robe reaching down to Isaiah in the temple.....where, apparently, it filled “all things” with the glory of God’s presence, as the seraphs sang their song in praise of God’s holiness.
Taken out of context, Isaiah’s vision could be seen as the vivid imaginings of one person in love with God. In context we remember that Isaiah was more than a dreamer. He was in the temple at a time of national emergency, praying for his country. King Uzziah had died, so the foundations were shaking. For Isaiah, the answer did not lie in politics or in working harder for the ‘Kingdom to Come’, it lay in staying as close to the heart of God as he could. So he was ‘in the temple’. The Temple was a place, but surely it was his open heart that qualified him to catch a glimpse of the reality that lay behind the curtain in the Holy of Holies.
The seriousness of God’s holiness
What Isaiah recalled for us all, as the train of the Lord’s robe surrounded him, was his utter unworthiness. Unclean, unfit and in despair, Isaiah was faced with the seriousness of God’s holiness. What was he to do in the light of what he knew about himself and his nation?
This sort of honesty before God evidently changes things. In his grace, God sent that refining, purifying and equipping fire to touch Isaiah’s lips. “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” asked the voice of the triune God. “Send me”, said the newly hatched Prophet. And then he went out into the power vacuum and chaos of his time. His message was, ‘The King of the whole earth is God. He is in control. His word both saves and destroys. For things to come right in our land we must not forget him. God is where the hope for renewal lies’.
Work in the ‘wind-blow’
Between 1990 and 1993 I was self-employed for three years. At the start of this period, I had just completed three years of degree level Ecology and Forestry, but it was useless to me. There was a recession on and no permanent work. What was needed were people who knew how to work in the devastation that followed what became known as ‘The Great Storm of 1987’. In the South East of England, and around Canterbury, where I found myself, 15 million beautiful old trees had blown down. I found work in the ‘wind-blow’ as a lone working labourer.
The woods were like a war zone. Day after day, I planted trees in amongst the ruts and root plates of those broken old trees. As the summer came on, I toiled for week after week in the blazing sun, weeding and strimming, and falling over in the brambles that overwhelmed the landscape. Sometimes I had to tunnel through acres of briars, up to 10 feet deep. On one memorable day, I strimmed through a lantern shaped wasp’s nest, and was stung so many times that I had no choice but to abandon the still running machine in the bushes and go home. The next day, it was still there, out of fuel, but still guarded by a squadron of ‘Jaspers’. I wrote a song about it all. I called it ‘The woods of Kent, they make me cry...’
The resurrected forest
Thirty years on, I still go to Canterbury to see my parents. When I go back, I try to get into the woods to see what is happening. Even the stumps of the big beautiful old trees are beginning to disappear now. They were too brittle and old to survive. Today, in their place, there is a new forest. It is not the planned one that I was paid to plant and tend – that effort to reconstruct the past largely failed. The resurrected forest has sprung up from seed that lay amongst the tree stumps. It is beautiful....especially in the spring when the sun shines and you can feel it growing. It is flexible and fragrant. It does not grow in straight lines. It is not a commercial success – it is what God wanted.
Here and there you will see a new tree growing straight out of the heart of an old stump. More often than not, the new tree is a more pioneering species than the one it has replaced. Whenever I see this I am reminded of 1 Corinthians 15:38 – “God gives it a body as he has determined”. It is vitally linked to what went before - it is still a tree – but it is also different and better equipped to thrive in the new world which has emerged following ‘The Great Storm’. We Christians love this idea don’t we? The problem is that we are also nostalgic. So often our visions of holiness have their roots in the past.
God is not into restoration. He is into resurrection
“But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land” (Isaiah 6:13).
In the chaos that follows a great storm, like the one we are in the midst of these days with the pandemic, God will commission those who draw close to Him. They will glimpse the Holy of holies. In this light, they will admit their un-worthiness and be open to God’s commissioning for work amongst the ‘wind-blow’.
There they will find thorns and thickets. They will find ruts to fall into, and they will also probably get stung along the way. But the faithful will notice that the holy seed has been sown among the tree stumps. They will notice that God is not into restoration. He is into resurrection.
As both Isaiah and St Paul discovered, “The one who calls us is faithful, and he will do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).
A young and flexible Ash tree grows out of the stump of a shattered old Oak.