About the time I was settling into the first leg of my career, I was introduced to the Bonsai tree. I was stationed in beautiful Turlock, California, installed as the pastor of the Bible Baptist Church. A few miles north on Highway 99, was the big sister city of Modesto. They had a mall in Modesto and we frequented it. During the holidays that first year in Turlock – it was 1985 – a store in the mall was selling Bonsai trees. Karate Kid had been the blockbuster movie of 1984. Thanks to one of the central characters, Mr. Miyagi, I became enamored of the Bonsai. I thought it incredible to see such exquisite life with so much detail and history in miniature. I didn’t have the dough to buy one then but I told myself someday I would.
Somehow someday never came…until last Wednesday, when a colleague decided he would gift me a Bonsai. Weeks ago, he and I had a throwaway conversation about office plants, particularly the ones I have in my office. I mentioned my longtime interest in the Bonsai. I forgot all about the conversation because it wasn’t really pertinent to anything on my mind thereafter.
Wednesday morning, the day before he was scheduled to return to his home in South Carolina, he brought me this…
How cool is that? My very own Bonsai tree. Move over, Miyagi!
The History and Significance of the Bonsai
On the website karmaandluck.com, I found the following:
Granted, the referenced site is devoted to selling Bonsai models created with varying degrees of extravagance and cost. These creations are supposed to positively impact things like energy, passion, love, and money. So, for a little of your money, you can purchase your very own money tree…or health, or happiness, or energy tree. Whatever you need.
The website may have a monetary motive. Still, as near as I can tell, they nail the history and nature of the Bonsai.
Beware the Care of the Bonsai
I do not have a green thumb. For decades I have joked that my thumb has a skull & crossbones etched in it. If a thing lives, I can kill it. Recently, however, with more attention to detail, I have made some progress in husbandry (though none as a husband).
Whether I am ready for the challenge of the Bonsai remains to be seen!
OK, challenge accepted. I will Miyagi this thing or it will die with me trying.
I think it is appropriate that the Bonsai tree require care and attention in order to flourish. If a thing so tiny in scale is meant to represent such massive life goals as balance, harmony, and simplicity, it ought to require tender love and care.
The Bible and the Bonsai
The concept of the life-in-miniature tree representing such grandiose ideals may be Buddhist in origin, but these values, these components of a complete life are Christian tenets. They are part and parcel of Jesus Christ and His gospel.
THE ORIGINAL GARden trees
In the biblical book of Genesis, we are told of a place called Eden. It was a lush garden conducive to a life of balance, harmony, and simplicity. God was its Creator and Gardener.
In this garden were two trees:
The Tree of Life. This tree, planted by God in the center of the Garden, God Himself declared good. He invited Adam and Eve to enjoy its fruits. The tree disappears after Adam and Eve fall into sin and does not reappear until the last chapter of the Revelation! There we find the tree of life, right smack dab in the eternal city of God. Then the angel showed me a river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the main street of the city. On either side of the river stood a tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit and yielding a fresh crop for each month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be within the city, and His servants will worship Him. They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night in the city, and they will have no need for the light of a lamp or of the sun. For the Lord God will shine on them, and they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22:1-5)
The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. This is really the tree of unbelief, of disobedience, of foolish ambition. It was the one tree God forbade the pair to indulge – and the one they could not resist. It was the tree of innocence lost. “To the pure, all things are pure; but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure. Indeed, both their minds and their consciences are defiled.” (Titus 1:15)
the bountiful bonsai blessings
Balance! I firmly believe that balance is one of the essential keys to a happy and rewarding life. Some Christians emphasize grace to the exclusion of good behavior until they concoct a watered-down Christianity with no real compass, an anything-goes kind of faith that uses Grace as a “get out of jail free again and again” card. “Liberty!” They lustily declare. “Live in freedom, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.” (1 Peter 2:16) Jesus Christ was the perfect balance of grace and truth. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
Harmony. Decades ago, Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder sang their dreamy lyrics, longing for the day that “ebony and ivory” would live “together in perfect harmony” the way they do on the piano keyboard. That day seems as far away today as it has ever been. Racial strife, class strife, social strife, all strife begins with inner strife. When a soul is not at peace with itself, how can it be at peace with anyone or anything else? Rather than harmony, we get dissonance in every relationship, including marriage, and every social element or institution, including and maybe especially the home. Harmony is both the privilege and the duty of the redeemed… “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:16-18)
Simplicity. In this age of sophistication, this time of the explosion of knowledge, the exponential and unstoppable advancement of technology, how we yearn for the simple. Why else would we pay $5 for twenty cents worth of coffee? Why do we leave the comforts of technology for a long walk in the woods? Why do we unplug? Because we long for simplicity. “But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.” (1 Timothy 6:6,7)
I cannot give a Bonsai tree life. I am not a life-giver. I can, however, help to sustain its life. Just so, I am not the author of my own life but I can help my life flourish by tending the garden – keeping my balance, living in harmony with the Holy Spirit and His influence, and seeking the simplicity that is in Christ Jesus.
Ancient Truths, Current Remedies
The Ficus retusa linn, housed in the Crespi Bonsai Museum in Milan, Italy is believed to be the oldest living Bonsai tree. Officials claim it is over 1,000 years old!
Various species of Bonsai are capable of living for centuries. With proper care, they may outlive their caregiver – or several generations of caregivers.
(I just hope my little Juniper Bonsai makes it through the winter!)
The Bonsai has the potential for a long and beautiful life. What else should we expect from the little representative of balance, harmony, and simplicity?
As we learned earlier, the Japanese word Bonsai literally means “planted in a container.”
Again…perfect! Have a look at this Bible verse…
Therefore, just as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him, established in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (Colossians 2:6,7)
As a believer, you have been planted “in Christ Jesus.” That, my friend, is the richest soil there is. In Him is life (John 1:14).
Balance, harmony, and simplicity are not easily maintained. Frail as we are, we are bound to lose our balance, find ourselves at odds with those whom we love, and are often overwhelmed by complicated circumstances. The beauty of life in Christ is His ability to heal us in the places we are most damaged until those very places become the most beautiful and useful features of our lives.
Live long and prosper, little tree.