Opening to Joy:
Liquid Amber Trees
by the Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones
Today, during my weekly online Lunch with Rev. Nancy, Frey Leigh finishes up his check-in with the words: “Oh! And I have something for Show and Tell!”
He reaches off camera to his right, and reappears holding up a large sketchbook, whose creamy blank page serves as the perfect backdrop for the main event: crisp red, yellow, and brown autumn leaves, curling and shimmering, 3-pointed, 5-pointed, or 7-pointed. Frey collects and presses these beauties, too precious not to share. As an afterthought, he adds the sentence that stops me in my tracks:
“They’re from the liquid amber trees in my neighborhood.”
Liquid amber trees, I write in my notebook. The name takes my breath away. I picture the trees dripping fat honey-colored droplets from every branch, as though the life inside the trunk burns so brightly that it turns the semiprecious gemstone hidden at its heart into a flowing stream of gold.
Of course the actual scientific name for the tree is spelled Liquidambar, also known as sweetgum, redgum, star gum (in the United Kingdom), and satin-walnut. But my imagination is not so far off: The tree gets its name from the sweet resinous sap that oozes out when the tree is cut. That’s what real amber is, after all: tree resin that has hardened and fossilized over millions of years.
Still, liquid amber trees—what a wonder their very existence is! To think I have been walking among them all this time, crunching through liquid amber leaves, recording them in photographs. Now, as I look out the front windows of my apartment, I see the Liquidambar tree across the street. I notice that the reddest leaves are the ones that get the most sun. And there! Just now a yellow slice of amber floats down like a small bright-winged bird.
Dear ones, may I confess? I’ve been dreading the arrival of this month of December. With its theme, “Opening to Joy” I’ve been feeling responsible for producing experiences of joy for all of us—even as the pandemic slogs on, trailing its uncertainties like a too-heavy load; even as injustice abounds, shutting some lives off from the simplest creature comforts.
But here’s the thing: With the Worship Associates who will partner in creating our Sunday, Solstice, and Christmas Eve services this month, I’ve been experimenting with ways to come back to Life even when I feel discouraged or overwhelmed. Small practices that take only a moment of awareness … yet can shift the texture of a whole day.
Like learning just today that there are liquid amber trees. How can we not be joyful sometimes, when we live in such a world as this?
Together, with love, in our return to Life and to Joy,