Saturday, 21 March 2009

The Fruit Tree

(Dedicated to my father, Peter Willmot. He told us part of this story when we were small, although he never saw how it turned out in the end. Despite knowing what is written here, he allowed us to endure that mandatory inoculation against Christianity known as Sunday School.)
Jesus said, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless an ear of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds."
John 12:23,24 (NIV)

Many of the trees in the orchard bore good fruit, but one was especially fine. The rest merely fed on the soil's nutrients, but this tree absorbed all the dross and waste and rubbish that lay on the earth; transforming it into the most fabulously scented, lucious fruit imaginable. As well as being good to eat, the fruit seemed to have healing, life-giving properties.

Word spread and the orchard people worried so many visitors might damage their tree. Wanting to share their blessing (but seeing "a little regulation was needed here") guardians were comissioned to ensure the tree continued bearing fruit. They agreed the best way to protect the tree and honour its specialness was to build a walled garden around it.

Time passed and the tree continued to bear fruit. Some noticed the fruit were smaller than they remembered. Others thought their fathers might have exaggerated when describing the scent. Its fruit had been rationed for a long time, so it was already a commonplace that no-one could actually live on it like the stories claimed. But one thing they did comment on: while other trees in the orchard grew old and died, this one merely grew tougher.

To help new generations of Guardians, the Lore of the Tree was Written. Each generation of pilgrims came and gazed upon The Tree. "Eating from the Tree" was now a sacred ritual. The Guardians did their best to ferilise the garden and feed the tree, but it was not enough. Each century the tree looked a little more bowed, knarled and lifeless. Each crop tending to be a little smaller, a little paler than before.

Meanwhile the land was prospering. Businesses were thriving and the people were healthier and wealthier than ever. Children who once might have looked in wonder at the lucious fruit, now passed it by, favouring brighter attractions. The Guardians blamed "progress" for leading the children astray. But the walled garden was, in fact, shabby and old; the tree was struggling and the fruit nothing to write home about.

Something had to be done. The tree was once a fresh, lively green. So the Guardians painted it a fresh, lively green colour. They researched stories of the Early Fruit and hung pictures of fruit in the branches. This attracted some interest and the Guardians recognised that the "party buzz" was good — the community echoed something of the Old Tree As It Once Was, so they encouraged lively meetings and mutual support. Things were looking up.

But inevitably, the children growing up in this new-born community wanted to taste the fruit for themselves. And of course they were not fooled. Their parents might have their vision clouded by dreamy memories, but they saw quite clearly that this decrepid, half-starved fruit tree was worse than the other trees, not better. They tasted the fruit and it was dry, not life-giving. The branches were so brittle they needed propping up. The bark required continual protection from insects that knew this tree had had its day. And trained eyes were needed to make out tiny fruit, only fit for "ceremonial eating" now.

The Guardians were perplexed. For centuries they had never failed to keep the soil around the Tree pure. They had been diligent in protecting it from all the dross, waste and rubbish that lay on the earth outside the walled garden. With their children turning their back on The Tree, the Guardians' job was clearly now only hospice care. It was just a matter of time. Eventually there were only two Guardians left and they agreed on a fitting end. With care, they uprooted the tree and buried it near the rubbish heap at the back of the orchard where few people ever went. They covered it with earth, said a few words, and laid it to rest.

That winter there was no Tree, but there was no-one to miss it either. As spring came, life went on as it always did. Children were born as the elderly passed away, and businesses thrived amidst the usual troubles. Some got sick, others were poor, but the indomitable spirit of the people meant they largely overcame their trials; as they had been doing for centuries. Near the rubbish heap, where the old tree's roots were buried, the ground was full of all the dross and waste and the rubbish that lay on the earth. Nobody recognised the shoots that first appeared, but they were the brightest, gentle green.


  1. Oh dear, I don't fully understand this story. Sorry for being so dense. There certainly does seem to be a deep meaning and I can grasp a little of it but not the whole.
    I don't remember having heard it before.

  2. Don't worry, Patricia. You must know by now, "obscure" is my middle name?

    The story makes three points. First it shows how the Church (certainly in the Western world) has all but extinguished the Light it was given to care for. Secondly, it reminds us that this Light can never be extinguished.

    Most significant, though, is the third point: how did this come about from even the best of intentions?

    In the gospels Peter and the other disciples are shown as always getting the wrong end of the stick. Why? We might expect the "rock on which I will build my church" to be the hero. Instead he is shown as a bumbling fool. The gospel writers understood that God's ways are not our ways. Hence the quote about dying being the seed's best chance at abundant life.

    You see, what we recognise as good is not the main player in the healing/restoration of the world. The stuff we systematically reject actually plays the most significant role. Unfortunately, its nearly impossible for our protector mind (inauthentic being, small self, ego-mind) to comprehend. That may be why you got the feeling that something here is important, but you can't keep it in focus long enough to "get it".

    Jesus was about spending time with those who weren't "good". In fact, what people thought of as "good" at the time turned out to be anathema to him (and nothing much has changed there, I'm afraid). The life of Christ on earth never has and never will depend on the good things we do to serve Him. The only channels for true "salvation" (healing, growth, restoration, maturity...) are the opportunities He is presented with to transform things with His own touch.

    It's all about Him; only about us to the extent God's unfathomable greatness, goodness and mercy is revealed through our transformation. We can only see this when our minds are overshadowed by Spirit; our personal minds must reject any universe where we are not central. So even the best of human intentions end up killing the Light.

    But paradoxically, if instead of seeking to serve God we "avoid our Bethel"; if as the Zen masters say, we "kill the Buddha wherever we find him", if as a grain of wheat we are content to die for the greater good then, like happiness, that Greater Good alights on our shoulder. He has found a soul he can work through.