An incredible tree grows at the edge of the lake near the chapel at the Life Enrichment Center in Fruitland Park. At first glance, it’s simply another tree like the hundreds of others on the property. On further inspection, a story unfolds. At one time, the multi-trunked tree was indeed large. Something, maybe lightening, brought part of it to the ground. That part remained attached to the main tree and something amazing happened. The fallen tree’s now unearthed roots found their way to the base of the tree left standing and grew into the base of the main tree. Layer after layer of interconnectedness between these two trees kept the fallen part alive and growing, even though the trunk lay on the ground. Despite the damage to the fallen tree, the trees remained part of one another, each giving life to the other.
A picture of healthy community, this incredible tree shows the importance of deep roots nurtured by rich and varied relationships with the community. Without deep roots, , the fallen part of the tree might have died. Those truly embedded in a community cannot suffer without the community noticing. When one of their number has difficulties or suddenly stops showing up, the community responds with care. Without deep roots in the community, our suffering may go unnoticed or even if noticed, no response results. Each of us, in the communities of which we are a part, have responsibility to engage, whether it’s our local town, our Chamber of Commerce, our Rotary Club or our community of faith. Sure, it takes time, time well worth the effort. For when we fall, as most of us will at some time or another, that community to which we have given ourselves freely will give back in ways we could never imagine. The community will only feel able to respond to the degree that we opened ourselves to the risk of relationship, an act far less risky than the risk of going it alone. Jesus pictured us in such community in the church when he taught us not to stay angry but confront issues (Matthew 18:15), when he told us he would be with us whenever two or more gather in his name (Matthew 18:19) and when he instructed us to care for the ones who have need help or have fallen such as the widows, orphans, strangers and prisoners (Matthew 25:31-46). Perhaps it’s time to take him at his word and discover the joy of community for ourselves.