This beauty doth all things excel,
By faith I know, but ne’er can tell
The glory which I now can see
In Jesus Christ the apple tree.
I am not a cruise person. You’re stuck in the middle of the ocean with no churches, no wifi, only one suitcase’s worth of books, and the select group of people of whom you’ll surely be sick by day three. But somehow I ended up on the Diamond Princess with my family that summer, the summer after I got kicked out of my dorm (a story for another time).
As part of our Alaskan cruise, we stopped along the shore of a small town. And a little ways away from that town, I ended up in a tree.
Not a little tree. It’s not like I just shimmied up to see a sight or explore a treehouse. Nope. We had decided to do ziplining. Which seemed a like a good idea at first, until we were on the wooden platform dozens of feet in the air, with no railings. And not only that, but the platform is swaying. Swaying.
“Don’t worry,” the guide tells us. “Swaying is a good thing. It means the tree is healthy. If the tree doesn’t move at all, it’s probably dead or dying and will eventually break. You want the platforms to be moving.”
Not comforting at all.
But that was the price to pay if you want to fly over the town’s salmon hatchery, to see the deep woods from above, and to feel the wind moving across your face with a blue sky overhead. If you want to have that sort of adventurous transcendent joy, you have to suffer the shifting platform. And that’s the price my family paid, as we stood fifty feet in the air in our matching lime green parkas.
But our guide doesn’t want us to just suffer the swaying of our tree. He wants us to embrace it, to let go of our desire for static bearings and to appreciate the fact that the tree is living. Only dying things fossilize. Living things bend with the wind and the weight of our bodies.
So says the instructor, so says Newman. Certainly a tree must stay rooted, and any plant that is constantly uprooted and replanted will have limited growth. But a doctrine that does not bend and sway and grow has died, has fossilized. And it will break. Those who insist we stand upon it bring us to our deaths.
Chris Damian is a writer, speaker, attorney, and business professional living in the Twin Cities. He received his B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Notre Dame and his J.D. and M.A. in Catholic Studies from the University of St. Thomas. He is the author of “I Desired You: Intellectual Journals on Faith and (Homo)sexuality” (volumes I and II). He is also the co-founder of YArespond, a group of Catholic young adults seeking informed and holistic responses to the clergy abuse crisis. In his free time, he enjoys hosting dinner parties and creative writing workshops.