Lessons from The Pitch Pine

Yesterday I was at a memorial service for the mother of a dear friend of mine, and the pastor told us about the pitch pinecone. Just like around 99% of the rest of nature, I’d never heard of a pitch pine before. It’s a vast world out there. I imagine the bottom of the sea is home to unimaginable things: things never named but that crawl along the floor of the ocean with dozens of antennae for sight, fish with bulbous eyes and fins that breathe hydrogen, glowing things, flashing teeth, gelatinous fingers somehow alive, screaming eels that can’t be heard.

The pitch pinecone is unique. In botany-talk it has epicormic shoots and is protected by a cambium layer. I don’t know what either of these words mean, but from what I understand, the pitch pinecone stays closed so that the seed stays put and doesn’t fly out and cause baby trees. This isn’t true for most pinecones, which are open and consistently distribute seed.

The pitch pinecone is activated by heat. Heat causes it to open, which in turn releases seed so that those baby trees can take root and sprout. The ideal condition for this tree-copulation of sorts is during a forest fire. The fire burns, the pinecone opens, and walah.

If you haven’t yet made the spiritual connection, I’ll clarify for you; it’s all laid out for us in 1 Peter 4, which talks about fiery trials. If you’ve ever experienced one, welcome to the club, and did you not find that during your “fire” a seed or two got loose? Maybe you can already see something that resembles a sprout in your periphery. Unfortunately for us humans, the fire is necessary. Looks different for everyone, but no one can deny the heat.

Having already experienced my share of the heat=open=fruit equation plenty of times, when I heard about the pitch pinecone my mind went to other things. Mainly those creatures at the bottom of the sea, and then to the Hubble Telescope and it’s pictures of a universe so vast it terrifies me, and then kangaroos with their baby Bjorns, and my God, those birds, those beautiful birds!

We are privy to so little of God’s creation. Even though we’ve mapped the human genome, there are a whole lot of other things to map. Our brains, for instance. Christof Koch, from the Allen Institute, says the brain is “by far the most complex piece of organized matter in the known universe.” The plain fact is that we will never, ever, know more than 1% of what God has created.

Which begs the point; why, if we will likely never appreciate so much of what he’s created, did he bother? I know this is ethnocentric of me (if you will allow me to use that word in terms of species), but it kinda is about us is it not? We’re created in his image after all…

In fact, as is clear with the pitch pinecone, there’s a lot of stuff that we’ll probably never see that actually applies to our walk with God and our understanding of the way he works; not just in nature, but in our lives, our hearts. Jesus has much to say about gardening, but there’s a ton we’ll never know. What’s the point of all of this awesome stuff if there’s a good chance we’ll never see it?

Isaiah 55:12 says “all of the trees of the field will clap their hands.” Being a visual person, this makes me think about the way trees—with a cool sweep of wind—will turn the undersides of their leaves up to reveal the lighter green. The branches become arms and the leaves, like a wave at a football game, fly up with the wind in their multitudes and then settle content until the next gust. This happens whether we're looking or not, whether we're even aware that there was a wind, in a certain field, in the hills, of a never explored part of the earth.

After all, Jesus says in Luke 19 “Even the rocks will cry out.” I guess in some ways it’s not about us, or maybe it will all come together in Heaven, who knows?