Saturday, December 20, 2014


Where Shall We Hear Better Preaching?

Bradford Torrey (1843-1912), "In Praise of the Weymouth Pine," The Foot-Path Way (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1892), pp. 232-242 (at 232-233):
I could never think it surprising that the ancients worshiped trees; that groves were believed to be the dwelling places of the gods; that Xerxes delighted in the great plane-tree of Lydia; that he decked it with golden ornaments and appointed for it a sentry, one of "the immortal ten thousand." Feelings of this kind are natural; among natural men they seem to have been well-nigh universal. The wonder is that any should be without them. For myself, I cannot recollect the day when I did not regard the Weymouth pine (the white pine I was taught to call it, but now, for reasons of my own, I prefer the English name) with something like reverence. Especially was this true of one,—a tree of stupendous girth and height, under which I played, and up which I climbed till my cap seemed almost to rub against the sky. That pine ought to be standing yet; I would go far to lie in its shadow. But alas! no village Xerxes concerned himself for its safety, and long, long ago it was brought to earth, it and all its fair lesser companions. There is no wisdom in the grave, and it is nothing to them now that I remember them so kindly. Some of them went to the making of boxes, I suppose, some to the kindling of kitchen fires. In like noble spirit did the illustrious Bobo, for the love of roast pig, burn down his father's house.
Id. (at 237-239):
The solitary pine, unhindered, symmetrical, green to its lowermost twig, as it rises out of the meadow or stands a-tiptoe on the rocky ledge, is a thing of beauty, a pleasure to every eye. A pity and a shame that it should not be more common! But the pine forest, dark, spacious, slumberous, musical! Here is something better than beauty, dearer than pleasure. When we enter this cathedral, unless we enter it unworthily, we speak not of such things. Every tree may be imperfect, with half its branches dead for want of room or want of sun, but until the devotee turns critic—an easy step, alas, for half-hearted worshipers—we are conscious of no lack. Magnificence can do without prettiness, and a touch of solemnity is better than any amusement.

Where shall we hear better preaching, more searching comment upon life and death, than in this same cathedral? Verily, the pine is a priest of the true religion. It speaks never of itself, never its own words. Silent it stands till the Spirit breathes upon it. Then all its innumerable leaves awake and speak as they are moved. Then "he that hath ears to hear, let him hear." Wonderful is human speech,—the work of generations upon generations, each striving to express itself, its feelings, its thoughts, its needs, its sufferings, its joys, its inexpressible desires. Wonderful is human speech, for its complexity, its delicacy, its power. But the pine-tree, under the visitations of the heavenly influence, utters things incommunicable; it whispers to us of things we have never said and never can say,—things that lie deeper than words, deeper than thought. Blessed are our ears if we hear, for the message is not to be understood by every corner, nor, indeed, by any, except at happy moments. In this temple all hearing is given by inspiration, for which reason the pine-tree's language is inarticulate, as Jesus spake in parables.

Ivan Shishkin, Forest Reserve, Pine Grove

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