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Posted: July 16, 2010 12:00 a.m.

About Faith: Roots and Branches

Current events can sometimes take a toll on my spirit. Recently, the news outlets have bombarded us with this hot news flash: More Of The Same. More economic stagnation, more sweltering heat, more closures and foreclosures, more oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico. Even a new field general in Afghanistan does not mask the fact that it is the same old war. Politicians campaigning for office are giving us the same old message: "If you send me to Washington, I’ll be different. And this time I really mean it!"

It is not cynicism that threatens my spirit. It is the sheer volume of information and magnitude of the world’s problems that sometimes overwhelm and desensitize me. It comes in swells, but unlike a wave, it does not subside. It is more like a snow drift that gradually overcomes the mountain cabin, or like a sand dune that can become a desert mountain.

Jill Carattini, of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, recalled a time when she toured the magnificent sand dunes of Silver Lake, Michigan (Like a Tree Planted, June 27, 2007). There, a tour guide pointed out to her group that the trees around the dunes have an interesting feature that allows them to survive the shifting sands of the dunes. "These trees," he said, pointing to trees that were no more than 10 feet high, "are upwards of 35 feet tall." As the sand dunes rise to engulf the trees, the branches that are buried become roots, and the trees become even taller.

Perhaps we can be like the trees of Silver Lake. We live in times of shifting sands that threaten to overwhelm us. We often become inundated with too much information, too many choices, too much to do, and too few resources. Our schedules become too busy, our finances strained, and our hearts calloused. But if we let our branches become roots, we become stronger, richer souls. Trees and people can be measured for their depth as well as height.

This phenomenon is not unique to modernity. The psalmist knew of this feeling of tumult, and the soil that feeds and anchors our roots when life is hard:

God is our refuge and strength,

a very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,

though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;

though its waters roar and foam,

though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

"Be still, and know that I am God!

I am exalted among the nations,

I am exalted in the earth" (Ps 46:1-3, 10).

Ironically, we sometimes have the strongest faith when it is least needed, and the best habits of piety when least pressed for time. I imagine this psalm did not come to Peter’s mind when he attempted to walk on water, and his feet sank in direct proportion to his faith. Perhaps it was only later, in safety and dryness, that Peter returned to the scriptures that grounded him. For us, a busy day sometimes means skipping daily devotion, and a busy week may mean skipping Sunday worship. Hardship or misfortune may cause us to drop away from the faith altogether.

We can learn from Martin Luther, who is credited with saying, "I have so much to do today that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer." The race car driver knows that victory goes to the one who makes the occasional pit stop. The lumberjack knows that more trees fall under the sharpened axe. We who struggle to stay above the shifting sands can remember our source of refuge and strength. When the going gets tough, the tough make deeper roots.

The Rev. Brian Dale is the pastor of Allen Memorial Methodist Church in Oxford.

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