The Manna Gum: A Tree that Teaches


7 Mar 2018

By observing the created world with awe we can start to reflect on what matters.

The changing seasons have certainly made an impact over the last fortnight here in Geelong, Victoria. Ferocious winds have caused much damage here and around the region. Many of our trees have lost limbs or have been pruned to limit potential havoc they might cause should they fall. As we move into the final weeks of Lent these things offer us great insight into our journey as we prepare for Jesus’ passion and resurrection.

As we were reminded by the floods last year, Geelong is located in a watershed. However, the Bellarine Peninsula more generally is poorly drained, swampy and according to the local Indigenous mythology, Bunyip country. Because of this feature, there are many remnant habitat sites across the region that have some quite old and spectacular manna gum trees: Eucalyptus viminalis.

What a wonderful thing to pause and reflect on. The manna gum. A large tree, with big, sturdy branches, home to koala and birds of many kinds, offering shade from the sun, providing oxygen and fuel that we can also use. Manna indeed.

The Bible is littered with images of strong trees. Some are symbolic. Some are metaphorical and illustrate a prophecy. Some trees are in fact not even trees. The image of the vine in some cases surpasses the attributes of the largest cedar. As we move through Lent, let us pause and consider the manna gum and what it may teach us about our spiritual life.

The manna gum is a large tree with an extensive root system. To cope with drought, it sends its roots deep into the soil and in so doing also accesses nutrients and minerals that other trees cannot. If located in the right area, they can even metabolise gold found in the soil, which is then cycled into the leaves and bark. Because of this vast root system, it grows fast and tall. It has many large branches that help further its growth through photosynthesis.

With deep roots, a tree can support large branches. This is true in our lives as well. With deep roots we are strong. Healthy relationships, especially with our family and God nourish us, support us and make us strong. When the storms rage around us and pull at us, we do not fall because we are firmly rooted in good soil.

Just as the manna gum grows over deposits of gold, we too can offer treasure to the world that may be inaccessible to others. The way we live our lives of faith is a precious gift to the world and all those who we encounter. Our faith-filled lives and our actions bring treasure into the lives of others. By our words and actions, we become a living image of the One who came to save and serve all people.

With deep, healthy roots we also grow fast and have full, strong branches. Our branches’ offer so much to the world. Throughout our lives, we provide for others emotionally and spiritually through our love, compassion and friendship. Sometimes by just being we may provide for people in unknown ways.

Even the strongest eucalypt sometimes loses a limb. Although scarred for a period, the tree lives on. Often a hollow forms that then provides shelter for birds that otherwise wouldn’t be able to nest and breed. Sometimes the limb lost had been damaged previously or was diseased, so in losing the limb the tree becomes healthier.

As we journey through Lent, we should be encouraged in knowing this. Because it’s true that we all need a little pruning. When we reflect, we see things in our lives that need to be removed or at least changed somewhat. When we make a choice to do some pruning, we become healthier and make space for others to grow.

As with the manna gum we need water to survive. Although deep-rooted, without rain the strongest tree will not be able to live. Even in drought, the tree is assured that rain will come. Although it must wait, it has established itself well so that it can ride out these seasonal challenges.

The source of our rainfall is of course God. When we encounter Him in the Mass, in Scripture or others, we are offered the one element vital to all life. This is the most essential component in our lives. We may also observe that God’s goodness is offered to all people equally and without favour.

The manna gum, which provides so much, can teach us many things. Sometimes we need to reach deeper into the things that hold us firm. Sometimes we may need the storms of life or the gardener to prune the things that are not good for us. Sometimes we might just need to sit and be affirmed that although not perfect we provide for many people in unique ways and that we are doing well. In fact, in some ways, we might not realise how valued and loved we are; especially in the eyes of He who creates all things.

Brendan Nicholls is the liturgy coordinator at St Ignatius, Geelong.
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