Art, Poetry, Music, and Nature for the New Year
Thursday, January 28 2021
The Reverend Dr. Katie Snipes Lancaster
In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me and save me. Psalm 71:2
Starting at sundown last night, through sunset today our neighbors-in-faith celebrate the Jewish holiday Tu B’Shavt. It is the “New Year of the Tree.” Trees celebrate the new year? Yep. Occurring on the full moon in mid-winter, Tu B’Shavt reminds us that the fruit of summer began long before it was picked off the vine: hidden here in the depth of winter, the fruit begins to grow.
In the Ancient Near East, winter brought wet rain, nourishing the ground, preparing the soil, and fostering the health of the orchards. The “New Year of the Trees” was developed as an ancient way to count one’s yearly tithe. What fruit “counted” as part of this year’s 10% tithe? All the fruit grown after the Tree-New-Year. Do not try to bring some of last year’s old crop to this year’s tithe. Bring your best, most beautiful, fresh fruit to the table, to contribute to the thriving of the poor, to contribute to the health of the whole community, and to participate in God’s version of justice, because, of course, the fruit of the trees can never belong to just the orchard owner: sunshine and rain are gifts from God, given for all the world. In an essay from Trees, Earth and Tora: A Tu B’Shvat Anthology, Ari Elon writes, “The great flow of abundance between the land and the people must be primed with the small flow of abundance between landholder and landless.”
I love fruit. I love forests. I love visiting orchards. I’m perfectly primed to love this holiday, the “New Year of the Tree.” And, as celebrants of Tu B’Shvat have observed, it has a spiritual depth, as well (in other words, it’s not just about fiscal responsibility and social justice). As Ari Elon points out, it is a “celebration of Becoming” in which we recognize that “the One who always beckons us to grow” is hidden “just beneath the surface of the ordinary” in the same way that the life of a pomegranate or lemon is hidden, beginning and becoming, even now, here in the depth of winter.
God of orchard and forest, reveal yourself to us today in the ordinary. Amen.