Do you think that plants can hear and understand us?
What a silly question? They do not have ears or nervous systems to process these sensations.
Of course they cannot hear us! But when I moved as a minister to my first church, behind the manse and next to the church was a small neglected courtyard and in a narrow passage between a shed and the sanctuary grew an old plum tree. It was badly beaten by life, partly crooked, partly stooped, with a number of broken or dead branches. No one had taken care of it for very long time, at least for a generation. It was that kind of old traditional plum tree (Damson or Damascene they call it) with small purple shrunken fruits. Except there had hardly been any fruits on it. Ever! I was told that for years that whole tree would grow about a dozen little lonely plums and most of them would fall to ground before they ripened.
When we moved in, we cleared the courtyard of the clutter, started to cultivate a lawn and were planning to put in place a terrace for some small church gatherings. I remember vividly standing one early Spring afternoon under the plum tree with the Clerk of session, custodian and some other gentlemen talking about the plan and also wondering why that ugly tree was still there. That Spring it was too late in season to cut it down. It is immoral, not to be done, to fell a tree after the sap just starts flowing. We resolved to cut this fruitless, ugly, nonsense tree first thing next autumn. It never happened. That year the plum tree was almost breaking under the weight of fruit. We spent several days harvesting that little tree. Every willing parishioner received a basket of plums. We dusted off some old plum recipes. I made my own "Povidla" (plum butter). The Session half jokingly discussed making our own Church’ "Slivovice" (Plum Brandy). And on the Google Satellite Map (The tree is under the green arrow) I see that the tree is still there and it makes me happy.
So can trees hear us, can plants understand? I do not know. This experience would almost suggest they possibly can, but it could also be just pure coincidence, or perhaps result of other influences like cleaning the yard, cultivating the grass and simply people being around. I wish to think that it was not out of fear, but because that tree became happy for having more company.
Jesus of the gospel of Luke is said to tell a parable about a fruitless tree, which shares an almost identical setting and introduction with my plum tree story. It is a parable about special granted time, about repentance, about a radical change of mindset (what French call mentalité). Come on this Fifth Sunday in Lent, accompanied by stories of fruitless tree, we will seek a new, non-anthropocentric outlook for our faith, we will seek to trace the outline of new eco-theology.
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