Sunday, November 6, 2016

En + Durus

To quote the Steve Miller Band and the lectionary readings for Proper 28C/Ordinary 33C: you know you got to go through hell before you get to heaven. Isaiah 65 (verses 17-25) would be the heaven and Luke 21 (verses 5-19) would be the hell. The key, and it is found in the last verse of the gospel reading, is endurance: By your endurance you will gain your souls.

Endure is a relatively simple word. In Latin the word is a prepositional phrase, actually: en (in) + durus (hard). The 12th-century French endurer meant to make hard, to harden, to bear or tolerate, to keep up or maintain. By your endurance you will gain your souls.

How to depict endurance, though. Certainly there are images of faithful people in the midst of historic and contemporary persecutions. But it is not only spectacular public hardships that we are called to endure. So perhaps instead of cataloging persecutions it would be more helpful to provide an aspirational symbol that captures the idea of endurance.

Trees in general, like ladders and pillars, represent things that have to do with both heaven and earth. The oak tree has become a Christian symbol for endurance (though the symbolism is by no means exclusively Christian). Oaks are identified in scripture as strong trees (Amos 2:9), and they are known to be long-lived. They can survive natural disasters and human disasters. They see love and conflict. They stand through flood and drought. Oaks can survive even in the face of much adversity. It is an oak tree that offers shade to the Holy Family in Tintoretto's Flight Into Egypt.
The Deerhead Oak in McClellanville, SC, has a circumference of more than 30 feet. 
For more about the Deerhead Oak see:

Because the oak tree begins as an acorn - surely not an object with an intimidating presence - the oak reminds us that great endurance can grow from small beginnings. Perhaps we practice enduring small things and then, when the big things come, things like Luke writes, we'll be able to endure them. And in doing so, gain our souls.

Check Art&Faith Matters Facebook page for a further word relationship that illuminates endurance. Click on the link below. 

For thoughts on 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, click here.

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