Hope, part 6 (the tree)

In Virginia, trekking through the woods to find the perfect Christmas tree is a genuinely pleasant experience. On an early December day like today, the air is chilly and the sun is warm. Nature beckons me to the woods and I eagerly join with other city types as we drive the country back roads to find an out-of-the-way tree farm. At first, all the trees look beautiful and inviting from afar. Then, as the quest for the perfect tree moves on, it becomes clear when there are bare spots, or flat sides, or a trunk that leans considerably or twists like a candy cane. The tree that looks just right can be three feet taller than your ceiling or so wide that you cannot pass by without a squeeze. Sometimes, the loveliest needles turn out to be sharp like pins after a week or..in our worst adventure…the tree has poison oak growing up clandestinely through the middle. Still, none of these imperfections keeps us year after year from our hopeful quest to find the perfect tree.

Growing up in upstate New York, the quest for the perfect tree was a decidedly colder and snowier adventure. Many years, there was a pretty heavy amount of guess-work about what the tree would actually look like after all the snow melted away. It was cold, and we had less time to make a selection without risk of frost-bite. Once, my mother and I notoriously cut down the seemingly perfect tree only to realize that it was growing intertwined with two others. Our “1/3 of a tree” had to be propped up in a corner as if it was growing out from the wallpaper. There were other trees with similar character flaws, but in every case we knew like Charlie Brown that with a little bit of love, it wouldn’t be such a bad tree after all. It would inevitably turn out to be the perfect tree.

I was walking my way through the tree farm fields with my family today and thinking about this annual adventure. We set out in the hope for a perfect tree. When our daughter was small, we would put her on her dad’s shoulder and have her put her hand up to see the tree height limit that could keep us from out-sizing our expectations. In our last house, width was a serious problem. In our current house, the tree has a wide corner all it’s own and we can find one as stout as possible. Today, we stretched the limits of that by bringing home a tree nearly as wide as it is tall. And like always, we concluded that it is, indeed, the perfect tree.

As my path meandered between the rows and randomness of the trees, I began to think about hopeful waiting. There, in the tree fields, were dozens of “the perfect tree” just waiting and growing all around me. They were not all going to become our perfect tree for this year or this house, and it was likely that each one would be filled with imperfections. But, at one point all three of our family members would surround one tree and catch a glimpse of its potential addition to our festive holiday season. We would survey it, reach agreement, saw and topple the tree, tie it up, bring it into our home, and tend and water and decorate it with hopeful expectation. And, at some point we would stand with great satisfaction and say, “it really is the perfect tree.”

So, as we wait in hope this advent, maybe there is a lesson in all this for us, too. Every day, every hour, every present moment holds within it the capacity to be perfect, exactly as it is. That perfection isn’t dependent on freedom from flaws. It doesn’t look the same all the time, either. The perfect moments emerge because we bring to them all that we are, and see in them all that they are capable of becoming. I am not sure from year to year what makes one tree stand out from another. Truthfully, several trees could have made the final cut this year and it all would have turned out ok.

Today I thought: in all the vast Universe, how can it possibly be that I feel the divine moving and working in my own little imperfect, ordinary life? And, I thought about all these imperfect…yet perfect…trees, just waiting to be seen for their individual beauty. The hopeful expectation of divine grace that fills this season calls us, and raises our awareness to that potential. It awakens in us the perfect self longing to be set free in this very perfect, present moment.

And, in hopeful expectation, we await that transformation into all that we already are.

About harasprice

Professor of Social Work and Priest in The Episcopal Church, parent, teacher, learner, writer, advocate, and grateful traveller along this journey through life
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