The sequoia, the most ancient of trees on earth, conveys to us precious lessons today, which, if put into practice, will be of great benefit for our spiritual life.
T he Psalmist sings that “the heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims His handiwork” (Ps 19:1). This means that, through its wonders, the order of creation reflects sublime truths and contains valuable teachings. They are authentic “messages” that the Divine Artist, desiring to enter into contact with us, has left in every creature, such as the dawn or the sunset, the singing of the birds or the waves of the sea… God thus employs the elements that make up the symphony of nature as a means to lead us to Him.
With these considerations in mind, let us turn our attention to the plant kingdom. This time, the one who will teach us precious lessons will be the largest and most ancient trees on earth: the sequoias.
Giants of nature!
Native to California, the sequoia belongs to the order of conifers. At present there are only two species: Sequoia sempervirens, commonly known as the redwood, which can grow to over 100 metres in height and live for around a thousand years, and Sequoiadendron giganteum, known as the giant sequoia, whose longevity can extend to up to three millennia and of which a specimen was recently found with an impressive height of 105 metres.1
In addition to its vertiginous vertical dimension, the mighty trunk of a sequoia tree can attain a diameter of 12 metres. Sequoia National Park, located in California’s Sierra Nevada, boasts such a sturdy specimen that it takes twenty men with arms fully extended to encircle it… This makes it one of the largest and oldest plants on the entire planet!
It takes hundreds or even thousands of years for these trees to reach maturity; however – except for human intervention for the extraction of wood – they usually face little danger of being impeded in this process, as their leaves serve for neither food nor medicine, and their bark, which is about thirty centimetres thick, offers special resistance to fire, fungi and insects.2
Only one factor can be lethal for the sequoia: being separated from its “brothers”! Curiously, the terrain on which God planted it is too rocky to allow it to set deep roots… For this reason, the giants of the plant kingdom do not find their stability in the depths of the earth, like other trees, but in “collateral support”: they always grow close to each other and intertwine their roots, forming a sort of network under the shallow soil. Thus united, linked and even interwoven, they are ready to confront the strongest winds.
Another interesting aspect of this tree is that when it reaches “old age”, the best method of prolonging its life is called fire. Forest fires, common in its native region, open huge cracks in its trunk. However, healing these wounds takes a long time and requires it to redouble its vigour… Seeing itself wounded, it feels a heightened need to “fight” for survival, which imparts vitality for hundreds of years, at the end of which it finds itself rejuvenated and robust. For the sequoia, the arrival of a fire means another two or three hundred years of life!
Without doubt, if one of these giants, during the arduous years of struggle for its recovery, could speak to us, it would say: “I am wounded, but I am fighting! And, precisely because of this, I am alive!”
Two valuable lessons for life
Today, the monumental sequoias teach us precious lessons that can help to spiritually make us even more robust and more durable than they are.
The first lesson consists in understanding that we will never attain the fullness of our Christian vocation alone! We may be able to take a few steps without the help of our brothers and sisters in the Faith… But will we be able to walk with perseverance and precision towards perfection when darkness falls and we are beset by trials? Will we manage to stand firm in the face of the whirlwinds of the world’s temptations and illusions?
We know from experience that every individualist is doomed to supernatural sterility… Our Lord Jesus Christ himself, God made Man, wished to depend on a Mother to sustain Him until the supreme moment of the consummatum est, and while He is omnipotent, He did not found His Church alone, but chose twelve Apostles. How much more do we, poor mortals, need one another to reach sanctity!
We need to be helped along this path and, when strengthened, to also reinforce others. Was this not the advice given by Jesus to St. Peter: “and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren” (Lk 22:32)?
The second lesson that the sequoia teaches us is that suffering can renew and purify us. Like the California wildfires, sorrow sooner or later presents itself in our lives; there is no escape. “Militia est vitam hominis super terram” (Jb 7:1), as Job affirmed. However, if the fire of tribulations opens fissures, it also forces us to fight and, as a consequence, makes us stronger, purer and holier, provided we know how to transcend difficulties with the eyes of faith.
When we perceive the wounds left by trials, let us not waste time in faint-hearted lamentations. Let us fight with confidence in God! In this way, our injuries will earn for us not just two hundred years of life, but the eternal joys of the beatific vision.
Always united, let us fight with enthusiasm!
In the face of adversity let us therefore arm ourselves with a new disposition of soul! Let us help one another in the battles we face; let us strengthen one another in faith, and let us love one another. Then the onslaughts of the infernal enemy will never be able to tear up our roots from the heart of Holy Mother Church.
Let us face the difficulties of life with joy and fortitude, always mindful that it is out of love that our heavenly Father sends us tribulations, so as to make us warriors of Christ and worthy of the eternal reward. The scourges that God sends us are not for our perdition, but for our amendment (cf. Jt 8:27).
Thus strengthened and encouraged, sustained by the help of the Blessed Virgin, we shall gloriously attain our full moral stature! ◊
1 Cf. ILLUSTRATED DICTIONARY ENCYCLOPEDIA. São Paulo: April, 2006, v.XXI, p.2387.
2 Cf. NEW BARSA ENCYCLOPEDIA. 6.ed. São Paulo: Barsa Planeta Internacional, 2002, v.XIII, p.218.