Happy New Year, Trees: A Christian Pastor’s Experience At Tu B’Shevat

Monday night, my wife and I had the privilege of participating in Beth El Synagogue’s Tu B’Shevat seder. This was our second year doing this, and we came back not just because of the food and wine. Now don’t get me wrong, food prepared by some of the Twin Cities’ best chefs paired with some great Israeli wines is quite the draw. But that’s not what enlivened to the degree that I had to carve out the time and resources to come back.

As Rabbi Avi Olitzky opened up the evening reminding us what this is all about, I sat back with my last sips of Prosecco and thought, ‘I wish my tradition had this kind of connection and intention to it.’ I found my soul enlivened by the notion that these very common things, like the food we eat and the land we inhabit and out of which that food grows, are indeed sacred and worthy of such celebration.

As the night progressed with a seemingly endless bounty of carefully crafted and delivered food along with thoughtfully chosen wines, I sat there, a Christian Pastor, wondering if this is what that story in John chapter 2, is all about. It’s the one where Mother Mary tells Jesus to turn the water into wine. It’s kind of curious story, one I imagine my teetotaling Methodist forebears had to find all kinds of ways to dance around.

It goes like this: It’s early in the Jesus story, so early in fact that Jesus hasn’t done much of anything yet, other than call his disciples. The very next story is Jesus, his disciples, and Mary at a wedding when the wine starts running low. Mary looks at Jesus and says, “They have no wine”, insinuating that he will fix this, that it is indeed even his job to fix it. He does, albeit a bit reluctantly.

The story is about abundance, a theme that will run through the whole Gospel. As the food kept coming, and the wine kept pouring last night, each with an accompanying toast and blessing, I thought this is it: This is why the Gospel writer tells us this story. Because the foods we eat, the land that gives us the food, and the company with which we share it are sacred gifts us, and God wants to give it all to us in abundance. In fact, God has given it to us in abundance.

As my pants’ belt grew oppressively tight, and I looked at all those empty wine glasses before me, I felt immeasurably blessed by being privileged enough to experience an evening like this. Let’s be honest, it’s out of reach for a lot of people. And that’s when the spirit of God rose up within me, saying, “Yup. That’s the point. Look around, Pastor: There’s more than enough.”

Taking an evening not only to give thanks for, but to name the fruits the earth has given us, and then taking those fruits in with great abundance, led me to wonder: Maybe the Garden of Eden isn’t so far away after all. There is an abundance of trees among us, which are “pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Genesis 2:9). But in a rat race-paced world gripped in anxiety and uncertainty, it’s easy to lose sight of the abundance around us. This rat race fear and anxiety then lead us to fall away from the job God has given us to till and keep the garden, as we shift to exploiting it for own benefit.

In my tradition, we rarely if ever slow down like I did last night to see and experience the abundance of God’s gifts to us via this good, good earth that God created and entrusted to us. Eden isn’t gone. It’s here. And there’s plenty to go around. God has given us everything we need. We have the resources to feed, house, and clothe the world. We just choose not to. Tu B’Shevat reminded me of that piercing truth last night.

May we find the space to slow down and see the abundance of God’s gifts around us. May we have the faith to trust God’s good earth gives us more than enough. May we have the courage and conviction to till and keep this beautiful life-giving world. And may we walk in gratitude to the trees, so pleasant to the eye and so good for sustenance. Happy New Year, trees.

Pastor Paul Baudhuin is the pastor at Aldersgate Church in St. Louis Park.