Sunday, July 31, 2016

2016.07.31 Apple Tree Spirituality

How could Jesus Christ be an apple tree?  Why not? It is written—and sung and poetized.

 “Jesus Christ the Apple Tree”  is a carol I love. The lyrics were written by an unknown person in the 18th century. Many composers have set it to music, and interpretations abound. Here are the first and last verses.

 Jesus Christ the Apple Tree

The tree of life my soul hath seen
Laden with fruit and always green
The tree of life my soul hath seen
Laden with fruit and always green
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared with Christ the apple tree

This fruit does make my soul to thrive
It keeps my dying faith alive
This fruit does make my soul to thrive
It keeps my dying faith alive
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the apple tree.

I know this is a metaphor, possibly designed to reverse the biblical myth of Eden in which the apple became identified as a forbidden fruit—source of death and evil. Yet, there is actually no apple mentioned in the story, no apple at all—just a fruit. I'm guessing peach. 

Forbidden or not, Jesus Christ or not, I love apples and their trees.

In the back yard of one of my growing-up homes in Connecticut we had an apple tree. My mother thought it was very special. She had a white wrought iron bench fashioned to go around its trunk like a skirt. It became the scene for her youngest daughter’s portrait. The portrait went with my mother when she moved into a nursing home. Gazing at it from her bed was, I’m sure, my mom’s way of grieving her beautiful daughter who had predeceased her by nineteen years.

In my teen years, I loved our backyard apple tree for my own reasons. It had a different shape, smaller and more gnarly-snarly than other apple trees. It was a crab apple tree, yielding small green apples, wholly inedible—sour. Whenever I felt small and green, snarly and surly—altogether crabby—I had a friend.

Poet Carole-Jean Smith also had an apple tree companion. Here is a poem from her latest poetry collection News From The World.


Oh, apple tree. Oh overgrown
lichen laden apple tree. Thank you
for your explosion of perfumy
white blossoms every spring.
Thank you for your thick awning
of chlorophyl in summer. Thank you
for your manna dropped
onto the grass every fall; the birds,
the squirrels, the wasps, and I
dig in. Thank you for your lattice
of knobby branches that map
the sky outside my window.
Every winter they hold aloft
a tonnage of settled snow.
Oh apple tree. Have I ever told you

how much you mean to me?

More than a poem, this is a prayer of gratitude for things we receive from the world around us. It completes my understanding of the mysticism of apples and their trees.

One doesn’t need to mention God Creator or Jesus Christ or one’s inner secrets to wake up and notice the world around us—and to praise.