The new year is an invitation to take stock of where we are and to seek a new start – even as we acknowledge that change is hard. I spent some time reading African American theologian, pastor and poet, Howard Thurman over the Christmas season, and was struck by his essay, “New Wood,” as a particularly fitting one for us as a congregation, and as individual Christians, to ponder at the turn of the year. I share parts of it with you, along with a recommendation to read The Mood of Christmas and Other Celebrations at any time of year.
Thurman recounts a graduation speech by a college professor who had inherited his father’s farm on which grew an old apple tree. He noticed that the apples only grew on the wood that had grown that year. Thus, the tree “must grow new wood every year if it expected to bear fruit that year. If it did not bear fruit, it could not fulfill its destiny. It could continue to live – there would be life in the old wood and that life would bring forth leaves – but that is all. This year’s apples could not grow on last year’s wood.
“How often in our own experiences do we make demands upon old wood that can be made only upon new wood. This year‘s fruit can only grow on this year‘s wood. If for any reason fruit does not grow on this year‘s wood, then its day was yesterday, it’s year was yesteryear. …
“Age has its uses. There is a wisdom of experience and a vast strength that belong to that which has borne its fruit in its time. Often we forget this. We expect the time of fruitbearing to wait for our convenience, our mood, our permissions. We cling to the old way, the old pattern, because they were good in their time. Again and again we utter the complaint of the old wood “last year or ten years ago we did it this way.” … We forget that each year‘s fruit must grow on that year’s wood. Our responsibility is not to bear fruit, … [it] is to grow new wood. The laws of life will bring the fruit. … To refuse to grow new wood is to put one’s self against life! It is to retreat from life; it is to die. This year’s fruit grows only on this year‘s wood.”
Are we as a church growing new wood and bearing new fruit, or are we mistaking green leafiness for growth? What are we being called to allow God to prune away so that new wood might grow and new fruit upon it? What about in our individual lives? These seem good questions to ponder at the time of the year when the calendar turns to a new start.
May God bless us with fruitfulness in the year to come.