I have been thinking a lot about roots and vines and trunks this week. First, because I preach this Sunday and the Gospel reading is John 15:1-8. Second, because I stumbled across an old file from my corporate life and saw a technical doc on networking protocols. The idea of networks just fascinates me. This particular one was named after the banyan tree.
Banyan (Ficus subgenus Urostigma) is a
subgenus of many species of tropical figs with an unusual growth habit. They are large trees
that usually start life as a seedling epiphytic on another tree (or on structures
like buildings and bridges), where a fig-eating bird has deposited
the seed. The seedling
quickly develops aerial roots from the branches, which grow into
full stems once they touch the ground. These
supports will grow into trunks which in turn develop new branches and
new aerial roots and so on. The wood of the
banyan tree is soft and very porous, the sap is a white sticky latex.
The original host is eventually strangled or split apart by the banyan's rapid growth, thus another common name for these trees is strangler fig.
A single mature Banyan Tree will have many trunks and support roots which gives the appearance of a forest of separate trees. A single tree can spread to cover well over an acre (.5 hectares), the largest, in Sri Lanka, covers just over two acres (1 hectares).
This characteristic of developing aerial roots allows a single tree to spread over a large area. The biggest banyan tree in Pune, India is said to measure 800 m around its perimeter. It may reach a height of over 100 feet, and as it grows, new roots descend from its branches, pushing into the ground and forming new trunks. The roots grow relentlessly; many of the ancient temples of Angkor have toppled as these roots have become embedded in the cracks and crevices between their massive stones. A single tree might have dozens of trunks, and it is often impossible to tell which is the original.
In my limited POV, this is the Western church outside of the media glare today, just past the grid of growth and purpose and professionalism: a thousand intertwined branches, a thousand stories woven together, a thousand currents of history swirling in different directions. There are countless birds, women claiming their long stifled voices, people once the recipients of mission now evangelizing, communities cast out and thrown aside by institutions, culture and art calling people of the Spirit of God to their calling. Ancient temples, real & symbolic, are toppling faster than we can retro-fit them. The wood is porous, letting stuff in & out rather than protecting from disease or predators.
Aerial roots though - that's what grabs my imagination. This subverts my comfortable ideas of up & down, of linear and progressive. The main job of these aerial roots is to support the tree as it climbs, absorbing moisture from air rather than from the ground. Organs arising where they are not typically found, such as these roots, are said to be adventitious.
Main Entry: ad·ven·ti·tious
From Latin adventcius, foreign, from adventus, arrival
1 a : arising sporadically or in other than the usual location <an adventitious part in embryonic development> b : occurring spontaneously or accidentally in a country or region to which it is not native <an adventitious insect>
2 : ADVENTITIAL
3 : not congenital <adventitious deafness> —ad·ven·ti·tious·ly adverb
It's an exhilarating and scary time - sometimes
the tree tops grow so quickly they obliterate the sunlight, other times
the sound of "host" tree trunks dying pierces the silence. The air I breath out nourishes others, I depend on others breath to take in water and nutrients. This life out of thin air, these roots suspended in air and hope and God. I've lost track of my host trunk or even of the origin of the web of stories and joys and sorrows that surround my root.