Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

“The tallest trees will be cut down” (Isa 10:33)

Posted by Robert C. on May 8, 2007

An expansion project recently began on the Tanner Building at BYU. On entering the building this morning, I passed by a magnificent tree that had just been cut down on northwest corner of the building. As I approached the building and got a closer look at the majestic trunk, and verdant leaves, and the freshly exposed inner wood, my eyes unexpectedly began to moisten. As one amongst 5 boys in my family growing up, I’m pretty well-trained in keeping my emotions in check, so it wasn’t too hard to maintain my composure as I stepped into the elevator to ascend up, up, up to the 6th floor of my ivory tower, or “the great and spacious and spacious building” as it’s often called.

 That poor, poor tree.

….

In my sophomore English class, my best friend and I did a video about trees for a poetry assignment. We started off as a couple of punks disrespecting trees, talking about how they obstruct the edges of our football field, and how they cause annoying allergies, and are only good for those times when you are in the outdoors and gotta go and want a little privacy. But then some hot chicks (my friend’s 8-year old sister and friends) came by and overheard us dissing trees, and ignored our cat calls shaking their heads at our immaturity. In the next scene, we’re in a classroom learning about the beauty and wonder of trees. After our lesson, we do a rap version of Joyce Kilmer’s famous poem about trees and end the video surrounded by the beautiful chicks from before, imparting this sage advice to the camera, “if you wanna get chicks like these, then you gotta love ‘da trees….”

….

We have a magnificent tree in our front yard. Losing that tree would almost feel like losing a family member.

Those vibrant, green leaves rustling in the slight breeze of this gorgeous spring day—how many times had I enjoyed its shade while waiting for my wife to pick me up for lunch? How sorry I am that I didn’t looked up and admired its beauty more frequently and carefully.

….

Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard ends with the haunting sound of an axe in the background signifying the loss of the orchard and the beginning of a new era for the family as well as the orchard. In writing about the main theme of the play, Richard Gilman writes, “only if they let the orchard go will new or renewed life become possible” (Chekhov’s Plays, p. 203).

Letting go. Mourning. I think I would’ve been more likely to attend a memorial service for the sacrifice of this tree than the ground-breaking ceremony they actually had a few days ago—why is that? I prefer it this way, though, just like I would prefer to be alone at funerals….

In college I wrote a paper on Chekhov about the ecofeminist themes in his work (I share a birthday with Chekhov, so perhaps my fascination is tainted…). Here’s a quote I remember using from his short story “The Student,” a rare moment of optimistic sentiment in Chekhov—I’ll put the quotable quote in italics and include more than I quoted in my paper because, looking back, the hermeneutic implications of the context strike me as particularly interesting:

Now the student was thinking about Vasilisa: since she had shed tears all that had happened to Peter the night before the Crucifixion must have some relation to her. . . .

He looked round. The solitary light was still gleaming in the darkness and no figures could be seen near it now. The student thought again that if Vasilisa had shed tears, and her daughter had been troubled, it was evident that what he had just been telling them about, which had happened nineteen centuries ago, had a relation to the present–to both women, to the desolate village, to himself, to all people. The old woman had wept, not because he could tell the story touchingly, but because Peter was near to her, because her whole being was interested in what was passing in Peter’s soul.

And joy suddenly stirred in his soul, and he even stopped for a minute to take breath. “The past,” he thought, “is linked with the present by an unbroken chain of events flowing one out of another.” And it seemed to him that he had just seen both ends of that chain; that when he touched one end the other quivered.

….

I don’t understand emotion, and I don’t really know how it is distinct from spirituality. I’m generally turned off by Sunday school lessons and talks that become very emotional (I don’t mention Priesthood lessons b/c such is seldom the case…). But when I think about my most profound spiritual experiences, they all involved my emotions quite deeply. Ultimately, I think God’s greatness is in his ability to feel, to love, and not in what he knows intellectually (if the two can even be separated…).

Interestingly, in the article I just read on analytic feminism, it notes that,

Among the features that [analytic] feminists have criticized are that [traditional, analytic philosophy] is committed to pure objectivity and value-neutrality, and uses an unlocated, disembodied, disinterested, autonomous individual reasoner, knower, and agent.

I love the fact that the Mormon God is emphatically not impassive.  I hope in my reading, studying, and theologizing, I never do so impassively.

….

Look, the Sovereign, the LORD of hosts, will lop the boughs with terrifying power; the tallest trees will be cut down, and the lofty will be brought low. (Isaiah 10:33, NRSV)

How sad. How tragic. How profoundly moving.

14 Responses to ““The tallest trees will be cut down” (Isa 10:33)”

  1. “Look, the Sovereign, the LORD of hosts, will lop the boughs with terrifying power; the tallest trees will be cut down, and the lofty will be brought low. He will hack down the thickets of the forest with an ax, and Lebanon with its majestic trees will fall. [But] a shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots …On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.” (Isaiah 10:33-34; 11:1, 10; NRSV)

    Quite a promise. Thanks, Robert.

  2. Todd Wood said

    The Isaiah imagery on trees has been running through my family at least since 1762.

    Robert, you picked a topic that is one of the deepest theological themes of my life.

    Our family verse – Isaiah 61:3

    thinking of heart issues,
    Elon Todd Wood

    [btw, I am trying to find an oak to plant in my backyard–that can survive the weather of Idaho Falls. :)

  3. Cherylem said

    Robert,
    I loved this. I am so grateful that you trusted all of us on this blog enough to share this personal piece.

    And I am learning more about feminism through your natural curiosity and wonderful ability to link us everywhere.

    Thank you.

  4. brianj said

    Robert: I want to say something intelligent, but all I can do (thanks to you) is think of my favorite trees.

  5. brianj said

    Todd—that’s a great verse for a family! Thanks for sharing.

  6. m&m said

    This was moving. Thank you. (Incidentally, I am a sap when it comes to trees (pun sort of intended). I want to take all the cut Christmas trees home because I hate to see them alone in those tree lots. I feel a sad kind of sick feeling in my gut when we drive by yet another orchard that has been leveled for yet another subdivision (all that is left is silent stumps). I love the look and smell and sound and color and symbolism of trees. The story of the stump near the Tanner building makes me sad. I suppose this is all likely because of that all things testify thing….)

  7. Robert C. said

    Joe and Todd, thanks for these fabulous complementary passages. Indeed, there is much hope and beauty in Isaiah to counterbalance the sadness of trees being cut down. Todd, good luck with that tree—I think IF must have some of the strongest trees around b/c of those winds!

    m&m, thanks for the link. I really enjoyed looking up many of the links you provided, and thinking about the countless ways we can see and learn about Christ in the world around us, to help us bring “every thought to the obedience of Christ.” Your post also reminded me of D&C 128:23 which is my favorite aunt’s favorite verse—every summer growing up we’d read it under the eye of the Tetons while backpacking in the Alaska Basin area, and every summer she would tear up over it (and often I would too, but don’t tell anyone…).

    Brian & Cheryl, thanks for leaving your thoughts, it’s esp. appreciated after writing something a rather personal like this.

  8. robf said

    If we ever get back to Mormon mysticism, maybe I’ll share more of my thoughts about trees. Sacred groves. Temple gardens. They all invite us to maintain close association with trees. While it would be easy enough to see each and every tree as a “tree of life” we too often see them only as landscape ornaments, or obstacles to our building something far less beautiful. I can see the headline now: Large and spacious building expansion requires cutting down tree of life. Ah, the bitter irony.

  9. Robert C. said

    robf, yes—perhaps b/c of your comment coupled with my being a Joni Mitchell fan, I found myself humming “they paved paradise and put up a parking lot” on my way in this morning….

    That said, what is currently most striking for me to think about is not this man vs. nature conflict, maybe I’ve simply thought about this too much in the past, but the prophecy in scripture that these magnificent trees will in fact be cut down.

    But behold, . . . Satan shall be their father, and misery shall be their doom; and the whole heavens shall weep over them, even all the workmanship of mine hands; wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?

    How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!

    [F]or the heavens wept over him—he was Lucifer, a son of the morning. And we beheld, and lo, he is fallen! is fallen, even a son of the morning!

    (Moses 7:37; Isa 14:12; D&C 76:26-27, respectively)

  10. Cherylem said

    And remember what makes Satan the father: the act of murder, of violence.

  11. Nibley calls it the “Mahan principle,” to murder and get gain. And he specifically applies it to trees in terms of his grandfather’s (Charles W. Nibley, once a member of the First Presidency) lumber business.

    And isn’t that precisely the great difference between the two themes here, Robert: while the Mahans of the world cut down the trees so that they can reign with blood and horror on the earth, the Lord will cut them down precisely so that they can grow anew (again, yet in a different way).

    And what of the tree imagery of Malachi 3-4? The root and the branch: and we are the trunk that will be burned. D&C 85 comes to mind, then, also: are we in that book (that stick, that tree)?

  12. Robert C. said

    Cheryl and Joe, thanks for these comments, they’ve helped me think about the Atonement in a new light (and a more Girard-friendly way): as I contemplate the sacrifice of the tree for the sake of the new building, I’m more determined to do all I can to see to it that the building honors the tree’s sacrifice.

    I feel I should elaborate, but I’m not sure how. Hopefully with time I’ll understand this better and be able to articulate it better….

  13. John said

    Robert: As also thoughts, pay especial attention to deep emotion.

    Of all our God-given senses, emotion is profoundly associated with the personal experience (or revelation) of truth. As a phrase goes, “burning in the bosom” cannot but begin to describe the available range of revelatory emotion. Our baser, day-to-day feelings are mere shadows by comparison.

    Although a sudden and powerful heart-felt witness is sometimes hard to contain, it should not prevent you from comprehending the deeper meaning of the moment. The experience is often accompanied by a strong sense of purpose. Tears may flow, and voice may falter, but revelatory emotion brings profound focus, never a falling apart.

    Thankfully, you cannot wallow in revelatory emotion. I say “thankfully” because in this way, it easy to differentiate from normal joy or sorrow. If you attempt to exercise conscious control over the experience, even for noble reasons, the moment will immediately pass.

    I hope I have not been too analytical in sharing this.

    I do not envy those contractors who in the course of their jobs need to clear the ground of it’s life and character in order to build. I hope the extra floor space is sorely needed.

  14. Robert C. said

    John, thanks for these thoughts. I esp. like how you put this interplay of mind and emotion in terms of control, since it seems to accurately describe much of my experience:

    If you attempt to exercise conscious control over the experience, even for noble reasons, the moment will immediately pass.

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