Turning a Metaphor into a Poem

Vector Art by Bryan McKaig, based on Original Photo by Bryan Nash Gill, entitled "Ash"

I don’t consider myself a poet. Occasionally a songwriter, but barely that. The occasion of this poem, Planting, was the commissioning of a new church that our home church was sending out. We call these “church plants.” With a little prodding, I sat down to try and express the risk and reward that comes with this kind of sacrificial Kingdom expansion.

The words were incorporated into a short film, produced by Matt Freels, that tells the story of launching a new community of Christ followers through the metaphor of planting a tree.

Since the church planting process is very much an act of creation, I decided to take my cues from the book of Genesis, and structure the poem around Sabbaths. Six stanzas, each composed of four lines of seven syllables each, are followed by a two-line rest of reflection and synthesis.

While the immediate inspiration of the piece was the planting of a church, the image of cultivating a tree evokes many other kinds of creation and nurture, from parenting and teaching, to the creation of art or a new business venture. I hope you can find something for yourself in it!


Why take the time, the labor, The sweat and anxious caring To plant a living seedling That is sure to outlive you? None of us were here to see The first one grow, but we know From the rings and roots how time And seasons have slowly passed. I recall that our parents— The first ones, Adam and Eve— Were assigned to tend the ground, But were tested with a tree. Even now, the test of faith Is whether the tree bears fruit; Good, or bad, or none at all. It’s fruit the Lord examines. When the soil’s right for planting Sometimes the shovel sinks deep. But even then, a stray rock Or root can turn care to toil. Why do what is difficult When the reward of full growth Lies beyond what we will see? Why am I planting this tree? One plants, another waters But it is God who gives growth.

I don’t make this trunk reach high Or tell these branches to spread; I don’t stretch the roots out wide Or send the rain to nourish! All I do is dig; prune; watch; Pick a spot with sun and space; Tend the soil and mulch the ground, Aware I can’t restrain storms. They will come—the dry summers, The icy winters, but too The warm rains and gentle spring. And I’ll keep watch of this tree. Its trunk will stand broad and strong; Its shade will give rest and cool As a monument to God As each branch, each leaf abides. It will bud and flower. Think: The transformation it brings When beauty breaks forth to life Where neglect and death once stood! The hard work pays off in time. Patience and faith know one thing: Plant it right and you’ll grow more. Trees are made to bring new life! Healthy trees bear healthy fruit And healthy fruit grows new trees.

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