by Catherine Malotky

GOD OF GRACE AND BEAUTY, for more than two decades I have begun my day with a walk in the same wooded park near my home. Situated on glacial moraine, the park has a lake at its center that was once a giant block of ice as tall as the highest buildings in our city. When the ice melted, this became a transitional place between oak savanna and big woods. Before Eastern European farmers took over these lands, I can imagine these acres were prized by their Indigenous caretakers for plenteous water, abundant game and fertile soils. And the trees.

Great oaks remain on the steep hillsides, perhaps survivors of the farm-shaping clearing that so changed the landscape once homesteaders appeared. The oaks stand as sentinels over the comings and goings of smaller creatures, the seasons and the weather. Over the years they have stretched out their mighty branches and provided shelter and food for so many, human and otherwise. What have these trees witnessed in the last 150 years? What stories could they tell?

Every year, we notice another one has fallen, toppled by a powerful wind, or devasted by oak wilt traveling along its roots. Some have simply outlived themselves and, stripped of leaf and bark, stand naked against the sky, a perch for hunting raptors and a home for woodpeckers. Finally, these, too, give way and crash to the forest floor. They will slowly be reclaimed, returning their nutrients to the earth, sustaining life until the end.

The oaks are such a fine example of your generous bounty, God! So many are fed and sheltered because of them. So many networks of life build out from an oak tree. So much resilience is evident, as they stand strong even in the coldest winter freeze, patiently biding time until the spring thaw, when buds become leaves and acorns yet again.

You teach us to be a living being among other living beings, providing for each other while tending to our own well-being. You teach us to heal our wounds and reach out for your sustenance. Through the trees, you teach us to be patient and insistent at the same time.

Have we sufficiently honored these messengers of your love and grace? Are we tending to their well-being and doing what we can to support their thriving—not just for the sake of wall joists and firewood, but also to acknowledge that they, too, have been created in your image?

Teach us, God, to see the trees, to learn from them and to celebrate our interdependence with them. Give us the courage to support them as fellow creatures of your imagining. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

The Rev. Catherine Malotky is an ELCA pastor, retired from full-time paid work for the sake of dear relationships and interests.

This is excerpted from the September/October 2022 issue of Gather magazine. To read more like it, subscribe to Gather .