16. Tree of Hope

January 26, 2021Roger W. Lowther

This week I want to share a very special story with you about the most famous tree in all of Japan. It was the only vertical thing left standing in the city of Rikuzentakata after the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami. As the 10th anniversary of this day quickly approaches, and we prepare an arts conference to remember that day, we’ll be talking about this tree, because there’s a violin that was made from it. This “tsunami violin” will be showcased in a concert at our conference, one of the official 1,000 concerts planned with this violin. And we’ll be playing a piece called “Kibou” (or “Hope”) that was commissioned in memory of the tsunami. Here is the story of my first encounter with the tree, as told in my book Aroma of Beauty.

I looked up at the enormity of it. The tree was almost 100 feet tall. It grew here in the city of Rikuzentakata as part of a forest of 70,000 pine trees for hundreds of years. The trees protected the people from storms and strong coastal winds and were once chosen as one of the 100 most beautiful landscapes in Japan. But now they were all gone, all except for this one surviving tree.

“The tsunami sure ruined this land . . . and my shoes as well,” Luka added, looking down. She was one of the musicians who came with me on this trip. To get to the tree, we had to slog through mud along the river for about an hour from the nearest working road.

The landscape was nothing but mud as far as we could see. Every tree and road was gone. Every wooden building was washed away. Every concrete structure was destroyed. The tsunami demolished everything in its path.

I looked up at the tree again. In the entire grove of 70,000 trees, and every park and every neighborhood, only one tree was left standing, the Kiseki No Ipponmatsu, the “miracle” pine tree. Despite the incredible force of that wave, this tree somehow still stood!

I saw the tree again a few years later while passing through from one concert to another. Another group of musicians and I were traveling the newly constructed highway along the coast. Even though it was night, we could see the tree from the farthest outskirts of the city, its presence impossible to miss, lit up by spotlights as an unmistakable beacon of hope.

We stopped the car at the beautiful park that now surrounded the tree. There were flowers, benches, signs, and a wide clean concrete path. The original tree died due to salt left in the soil from the tsunami, but an almost exact replica stands in its place. It glowed as a magnificent symbol of resilience, courage, and hope against the darkness of the night sky.

Standing there by the river and ocean, I began to think about the most famous of all trees, the tree that stands by the river in the city of heaven. I wonder what that tree is like. Is it taller than this pine? Can it be seen even from the farthest outskirts of the city? Does it glow eternally in the light given by God? All we know is what the Bible tells us.

On each side of the river stood the tree of life . . . and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. . . . There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. (Revelation 22:2–3, 5)

I also thought about the cross. Roman soldiers regularly used pine trees for crucifixions, so the cross of Jesus was most likely made of pine.

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:24)

Both trees are for our healing. The tree of life wipes away the curse of death. The tree of the cross, planted on that ugly skull-shaped hill in Jerusalem, protects us from the storms of this world. That tree also rises out of the muck and mud of our sin as a beacon of light and hope. The tree of hope reminds us that God is always near, even in the midst of our devastation. It will always stand towering over a broken and desolate world, as the source of all healing and life.

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