“He is like a tree planted beside the waters
that stretches out its roots to the stream:
it fears not the heat when it comes;
its leaves stay green;
in the year of drought it shows no distress,
but still bears fruit.”
This is a verse from the 1st reading today. The first time I read it, it really grabbed me! I just thought the imagery was beautiful. In my mind I could easily picture that tree. It had thousands of vibrant green leaves blowing in a summer breeze. I saw the sun reflecting off of the calm waters of the picturesque river. Then of course my mind started wandering into science-land…
I started thinking about the relation between the tree and this water. We as humans think of drinking water as putting a cup of it to our mouths, but trees don’t do that. The science behind trees “drinking” water is so much cooler and more complicated than that.
Plants contain a vast system of channels through it that consist of xylem and phloem tissues. The xylem cells grow and then they die, but leave their cell wall behind and when you get enough of them they stack together and their dead bodies create a sort of pipe. These “pipes” extend all throughout the tree from top to bottom. At this point you might be saying, “But wait Teacher Dani, the water is at the bottom of the plant, at the root; gravity tells us it can’t get that water up through the pipes.” This is where the crazy ingenuity of it comes in to play. This is where I get giddy just thinking about it. So here’s the trick. The leaves at the top of the tree have pores and they open up to let water evaporate. This creates a negative water vapor pressure that the plant then equalizes by sucking up the water through these pipes like a big ‘ol straw!
Amazing. We as humans have learned all of this through years of research. Over 2500 years ago when the prophet Jeremiah was writing this analogy, he didn’t know the science behind it that we do today. He knew a few basic scientific principles like that the tree needs water to flourish. Yet he was able to preach these amazing things and get that same point across. Knowledge is power. I enjoy learning and digging and getting to truths. I find a beauty in discovering those inner workings. But just because I know all of these facts, doesn’t mean they are necessary to discuss this verse and the ideas behind it.
In fact, I think adding science to the conversation would lessen its power. Knowing science definitely enhances my life. Everyone should learn and should understand the world around them, but even in science, simplicity is held in high esteem. If you can explain something in a more efficient, more concise manner, it is better. Overcomplicating things is frowned upon.
Maybe this is part of why I’m drawn to science. For quite a few years now I’ve had pretty severe anxiety. Like every second of every day I’m thinking about 1,000 things at once. It is really exhausting. I overcomplicate everything around me so when science tells me to simplify, it has a calming effect. When I look at science I see the patterns. I see the simple solutions in the chaos. And I think that’s why I’m drawn to this reading too. It is a simple yet elegant way to describe this powerful teaching. God is this big complicated mystery that we will never fully understand, and we are called to trust Him. But most of us humans don’t like to trust things we don’t understand, so to calm our anxieties we are given this more simplified image. It gets to the point quickly and succinctly. God is the river that gives life, we must put our trust in Him as the tree puts roots near the river. A simple teaching, taught through a simple image. As a scientist this way of teaching brings me great joy.
As my dad the business man would always tell me...
remember the acronym K.I.S.S.
Keep It Simple Stupid.