The tree planted by the river as an image of divine love


R. Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.
He is like a tree
planted near running water,
That yields its fruit in due season,
and whose leaves never fade. (Psalm 1: 3)

The Psalm from today’s Mass readings is a beautiful one, and I’m especially struck by the language of the tree near running water. Up until the last week or so, New England has had a drought and so I had been watering my own yard’s trees from the garden hose, and discovering that in a deep enough drought, no matter how much water I gave the tree, it was not near enough to get to the tree’s roots. The water moistened the surface but didn’t penetrate deeply. (Finally, a drenching rain arrived last week!)

A tree planted near a river is different, for even in times of drought it can rely on the running water to keep the tree’s water supply going. It’s interesting to me that the tree is not one that is actually planted in the water, but near it. Perhaps a major root goes very near or into the water, but the others are indirectly watered by the soil’s nearness to the river.

To me, this image suggests two complementary ideas: on the one hand, that it is God’s love that sustains us, in a way that no other source of love can. If we stay “near the water,” we are nourished with all that we need, and then our own work can be fruitful, too. On the other hand, those other roots might be compared to the network of loving relationships in our lives, by which we know and experience God’s love through others. Our most faithful friendships, family members, community members of all kinds, are like those roots. It’s important for human beings to be “rooted,” to be “planted,” to exist in stable and loving communities of faith and friendship that sustain us. We need both concrete and particular relationships of love that endure, like steady roots of the tree, and the River from which all the water of love comes in the first place, a River that is God’s outpouring of love to us, always available and never running dry.

4 thoughts on “The tree planted by the river as an image of divine love

  1. All creatures gravitate towards the water. This concept was brought home to me this past summer vacation. The family vacationed in Yellowstone. We soon learned to look towards the streams and rivers to find the animals. At dusk, the animals came to drink. Now back home in MA, I’ve noticed the same “water” theme holds true. Just a few days ago, on our way home after a dinner, we spotted a mother deer and her fawn by a brook.
    Now I am still learning with your reflection. Mankind’s water is God. We need to stay close to Him and drink of His love, in order to have eternal life.
    Thank you.

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  2. I like the concept of ‘complementary’ – I suspect many of us, those ‘faith filled’ and focused on trying to follow Jesus, are actually roots for those in r lives, even when they are not aware. Since Pope Francis visit, I have had several family members, coworkers and friends be much more open to discussing faith, particularly those that fell away from their catholic upbringing years ago. It seems a door was opened to them, but it think more so a “light” turned on for them to see what they have been missing, or refusing to look at. Several have remarked to me how the Pope has brought something new to the church (of course I beg to differ, he is just exemplifying what has always been there); but others, fewer surely, seem to realize that myself and other faithfuls in their life have been long hidden roots for them and that we provide a way back to the water, the water of life, life-giving water. I hope I can be the roots for more people…

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