What do you make of this?
I promise you this photograph owes nothing to Photoshop. This tree, over many years, has grown quite naturally out of the grave. For some it may be an appropriate Easter image of hope, but you don’t need to be particularly religious to ponder its significance.
We may hope and believe (rightly so, since we are all unique) that our lives are somehow special, worthy of a permanent memorial – or perhaps simply that we may aspire to live worthy of a decent funeral oration when our time comes. We may also look beyond death as a natural phenomenon (however unnatural or tragic its circumstances in so many cases) and recognise that nature will inevitably take over and insist that we become nourishment for the next generations of living things. We are all swept along in a natural process of life and death; a stream that was flowing long before our individual consciousness came to birth, and that will continue to flow long after all whom we know have long vanished from the earth. If beyond death is the same as before birth, we have nothing to fear. Or, as Wittgenstein observed, death is not an event in life.
It may also remind us to let go of our craving for the past or for permanence, since neither is possible, and focus on the present moment – savouring the beauty of transient life, and celebrating the fleeting now.
Teilhard de Chardin argued that humankind would never move in a direction it knew to be blocked, but would be paralysed at the thought that its efforts would not win through to some eternal future goal. I’m not persuaded of that. We find it all too easy to go blindly down alleys that lead nowhere – as individuals, or humankind as a whole. But do we do so knowingly? Or do we secretly believe that our particular dreams will somehow yield a permanent result? Teilhard, along with most western religious thinkers, sought an overall structure of meaning and purpose (generally described in terms of ‘God’, for him a evolution leading to Omega) to make sense of life, believing in that structure being a prerequisite of salvation from meaningless existence. At the other end of the scale, the Buddhist tradition requires the radical letting go, accepting and celebrating the present moment. Personally, I find the latter more satisfying and realistic. It does not preclude other beliefs, but renders them of secondary importance to the immediate engagement with this ever-changing life.
I guess, for the more cynical (or realistic), the image also suggests that one really should take care to remove any ill-placed saplings that may have started to spring up from a long-forgotten acorn. Neglect it now and the result will be immovable in a generation or two!
Happy Easter to you all!