As most of you know, the Grace Immanuel building is undergoing extensive renovation. This morning, the construction crew chief and I were admiring an old floor joist that had been cut out of the chancel area. As I wondered where it had been logged, he commented that it was old growth timber, cut in 1886 to be cured and used in construction the next year. Judging by the curve of the rings, the hardwood tree would have been well over 100 years old when it was cut. How much old growth forest is left in Kentucky? Just over 2,500 acres, split into two locations.
Think of it, mountains are the compressed matter and energy of eons of plants and animals. Old trees are the silent witnesses to centuries and centuries of history: weather, fires, floods, animal and human migrations, not to mention our bloody conflicts. They hold countless insects, birds, and small mammals in their boughs, and shelter larger mammals like deer, bears and humans. We self-centered people probably underestimate the degree to which Spirit is present in all of these things.
Follow the thoughts of Gary Snyder:
"The deep woods turn, turn, and turn again. The ancient forests of the West are still around us. All the houses of San Francisco, Eureka, Corvallis, Portland, Seattle, Longview, are built with those old bodies: the 2x4s and siding are from the logging of the 1910s and 1920s. Strip the paint in an old San Francisco apartment and you find prime quality coastal redwood panels. Our great-grandchildren will more likely have to live in the shelter of riverbed aggregate. Then the forests of the past will be truly entirely gone. Out in the forest it takes about the same number of years as the tree lived for a fallen tree to totally return to the soil. If societies could learn to live by such a pace there would be no shortages, no extinctions. There would be clear streams, and the salmon would always return to spawn." (The Practice of the Wild, pp. 134-135)
On the one hand, it is fun to think simply in terms of history. In 1886, Karl Benz patented the first Motorwagen, and President Grover Cleveland dedicated the Statue of Liberty. Geronimo, after years of fighting, surrendered in Arizona. Dr. John Pemberton invented a new drink called Coca-Cola. A little boy named Karl Barth was born. But the presence of these old timbers in our church takes my thoughts deeper. We are surrounded by elders of God's creation, just as we think of being surrounded by the communion of saints. People often comment on the feeling they get in the Grace Immanuel sanctuary - something intangible and comforting. Perhaps we are being sheltered more than we know.