Faith Like an Olive Tree

What Israel’s most famous plants taught me about spiritual growth.

A few summers ago, I traveled to Israel at the generous invitation of friends. One memorable afternoon on our trip, we walked down the hillside of the Mount of Olives and passed through the Garden of Gethsemane. The smells and sounds of the landscape from that day have stayed strong in my memory.

I was wearing sandals and we had taken a bus up to the top of the hill, so I hadn’t realized how steep it was. But walking back down, the hot asphalt beneath my feet was like the surface you’d find at a theme park somewhere in middle-America. I thought of Jesus walking this same hill. I could barely keep my feet in my shoes for the angle of the path, so I took them off.

As we came to the bottom of the hill, we stood among the ancient olive trees in the garden where Jesus spent hours in prayer. The trees framing the outdoor sanctuary are some of the oldest living things around. Their sorrowful, faithful presence is unmoved there in the middle of this changing world. They bear witness.

Our guide told us that olive trees have some special characteristics. Most trees report their growth by adding a ring each year, but you cannot tell an olive tree’s age or experience by counting its rings. As an olive tree ages, instead of growing rings, the trunk expands inside and becomes more spacious. The older the olive tree, the wider and more hollow the trunk.

Back home in Tennessee, we read the story of the trees by their rings. Our trees hold their memory in layers, each storm and drought recorded in organic detail. But the olive trees hold memory more densely, compressed and magnificently refined. They make space as they mature.

In my own growth, I would like to be more like the olive tree, remembering the good stuff, the faithfulness …

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