Saturday, August 27, 2005

Deep Roots

Buddhism's roots run deep in the area where the Lord sent us, but it wasn't a monk or a temple that helped me realize just how far down they go.

On the road that led out of town, we stumbled upon a massive banyan tree bursting from the earth, its huge roots like eager tentacles grasping the sidewalk around it. This was one of the largest trees (in sheer girth) I had ever seen. I've been to Muir Woods, a famous Redwood forest in California, and this tree could hang with most of the ones there.


Interesting word choice, considering how banyan trees accumulate their mass. According to Evan, our resident forester, the banyan tree's branches droop toward the earth, growing ever longer until the make contact with the ground. Once they've reached it, they don't stop growing. Rather, they've just begun.

These hanging branches form root systems of their own and begin to produce for themselves the more branches, which repeat the cycle and enable the tree to grow relatively quickly--outward rather than upward.

I had taken a picture beside a huge banyan in Thailand. It was wrapped in colorful ribbon, and a colony of spirit houses had been erected next to it. In Thai Buddhism, we learned, there is something spiritual about these old trees. I guess they figure something that's been around for such a long time possesses some kind of cosmic favor within the circular life cycle.

Whatever it was, the tree standing before us had inherited a double portion of it. Though not quite as tall, it was at least twice as wide as its Thai counterpart.

Two men stood near the tree, quiet and still. I couldn't tell wheher they were mediatating, taking a short break from work, or just enjoying the shade, hoping that some of the tree's good luck would rub off on them.

We greeted the men, both of whom had watched us approach. The first guy smiled, revealing bright white teeth that contrasted sharply from his tan and weathered face. He almost looked Mexican rather than Chinese. His eyes were slanted, but his face was slender, rather than broad, and his skin was darker than that of most Han Chinese (the majority ethnic group in China).

"What's its name?" Steve asked, nodding toward the tree.

"How should I know?" I replied.

"Well, ask them if you don't know," he said, acting as though it would be simple for me to spout off some Chinese.

I did, and the reply came quicker than I expected. I kept the name in my memory bank just long enough to relay it to Steve, who nodded in affirmation. He had no more idea what it was than he did before I told him.

The second man kept his distance from us, allowing the first one to interact with us. I asked the first guy to take a picture with me and he agreed. Steve snapped it as we crouched, the giant tree looming behind us.

As we walked away, waving and smiling, I thought to myself, "You think this tree's big? I know the God who made it, along with everything else on earth."

How could these guys (or anyone else) worship the creation instead of the Creator? Well, the attributes of God are clearly visible from what has been made (Romans 1), but no one had told these people about the God whose qualities are on display. They have eternity written on their hearts, but they don't know who holds the pen.

Enter the Roadmakers, traveling across the world to carry out the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:11-21), making introductions between ignorant people and the God who no longer tolerates ignorance as an excuse (Acts 17:30).

Buddhism, like the roots of a banyan tree, runs deep. One day, the same God that made the banyan tree will uproot all deceptions that hold helpless souls in spiritual bondage.

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