George Bowers Sr.: The leaves of love
As the days get shorter and the nights get cooler, the trees begin to take on a new glory all their own. From the brilliant red dogwoods and gums to the yellow hickories and poplars to the fiery orange sassafras and maples, the woodlands become God’s palette of perfection. We can be thankful not just for the brilliant fall colors, but also for the ability to see and comprehend this divine artwork as well. Imagine what joy we would miss if we had no vision or if it were limited, like our old TVs, to black and white.
As we enjoy this annual outdoor exhibition, let us look more closely to see God’s love for us carved in these autumn leaves. For starters, behold the rounded foliage of the dogwood, which reminds us that God made and cares for everyone on this sphere we call Earth. There’s not a single person anywhere that he doesn’t cherish and with whom he doesn’t desire a relationship. The rounded dogwood leaves are a vivid and obvious illustration of this great global truth.
Look next at the white oaks, which are some of the most versatile trees in the local forests. Not only do they provide abundant high quality acorns for a variety of wildlife, but their branches offer nesting sites for birds while the trees’ cavities shelter busy bushy-tailed squirrels. To benefit two-legged mammals, this tree’s lumber is frequently made into cabinets, flooring, and a multitude of other highly useful and beautiful items. The leaves of these trees have several lobes that, without much imagination, resemble human fingers. As such, they are an obvious sign that God’s loving hands are reaching out to care for the people he has made and that he desires to hold us close.
The leaves of the black gum are shaped like teardrops and resemble the tears Jesus shed in Gethsemane as he wept over our sin. Even though his love is universal and inviting, it hurts his heart when we reject him and his ways. These leaves can encourage us to repent and to be truly sorry for all that we have done to disobey and wound him.
Glance next at the locust, ash, hickory, and walnut trees. All of these bear compound leaves, each of which is made up of several smaller leaflets, reminding us that God has placed us in families and communities with other people. Paul declared in Romans 14:7 that none of us lives or dies to himself or herself, and that we are all connected both to God and to others.
Although the heart-shaped leaves of redbud trees turn a yellowish brown each October, their red message is difficult to miss. Is it possible that the God of love knew in advance that this particular shape would one day become humankind’s international symbol for love? Since there is nothing hidden from his perfect wisdom, he certainly did, which explains why he peppered this shape throughout the plant kingdom, including its prominence on our redbud trees. He wants us to understand that the maker of all has a deep affection for all he has made.
It is another oak, however, that is the clearest of all, for the leaves of post oak are remarkably shaped like miniature crosses. What are the odds that a supposedly random leaf just happens to bear this unique design? Again, the all-knowing father sketched this distinctive leaf in advance to point us to the sacrifice of his son. Let he who has eyes to see behold the gospel of Jesus’ loving sacrifice stamped into the leaves of the post oak.
As we enjoy the autumn hues, let us take an extra minute to examine the shapes of the leaves that bear these colors. May we see in each not only the signature and creativity of their magnificent creator, but also the repeated depictions of his great love for us as well. Happy leafing, George
George Bowers Sr. is the senior pastor of Antioch Church of the Brethren in Woodstock and the author of seven books, including his devotional collection, “Blessings.” He can be reached through www.georgebowersministries.com or at firstname.lastname@example.org.