Glen found himself about six years old which would make it 1959 or 1960. Back then, he attended the big Presbyterian Church in town with his family and listened to very Presbyterian sermons, if you know what I mean. The one on that day was about love, and what he heard was God loves us so much, he died for us. God gave himself to us completely. Unfortunately, we cannot love God in the same way in return. We are not going to die for God nor can we give ourselves completely to him in the same way. God simply has no need for us in that way. So the way we love God is to love our neighbor. When we give ourselves completely to our neighbor, we are loving God. Please understand. At that time, Martin Luther King Jr. was still crusading, words like diversity and social justice had not yet been invented, and liberalism had not yet seriously infected the mainline churches, but it was all on the edge. You get the idea.
The sermon that morning focused on feeding the hungry and clothing the naked and doing good works as a way of expressing love for God – and yes, that perspective on the Christian faith began that many years ago. But even then, as young as Glen was, there was something about the sermon that did not sound right. It seemed to him that doing good for our neighbors showed love for our neighbors, not God. He saw God being cut out from the whole mix.
That night, Glen went to bed with a simple prayer. “God, I know loving my neighbor is important, but if you wouldn’t mind, could I love you, too?” he went to sleep with that prayer still on his lips and in his breath.
When Glen woke, he was much older, though of an indeterminate age. His back was to a tree instead of his soft mattress. The aroma, with his eyes shut tight, was glorious. It smelled of life, and he could feel that life, somehow, flowing up the tree from roots deep in the soil. No other word would do but life. When he opened his eyes, he drew in his breath. The tree at his back was bigger than anything he had ever seen. It was bigger than the Empire State Building. It was bigger than all the trees in all the world put together. It was so big, he could not see the curvature in the trunk, though he walked a hundred yards away.
Glen looked up to where the innumerable branches stretched out to catch the light. The light must have been blinding in the heights. He could not look straight up of course because of the branches, but in any case he could not see the top of the tree since it reached way beyond the clouds.
Glen looked carefully at the branches and the first thing he noticed was the fruit. It was round but variously sized and it appeared to be variously colored as well. He noticed one near the trunk that was small and the color of copper, one that was green and swirled, one that was blue and covered with white swirls, and one that was red before the branch broke into a number of immature fruit. Further out on the branch there was huge fruit with a big red spot. The one beyond that had rings like stamen of a flower, and Glen closed his eyes and shook his head. He was thinking of the solar system and letting his imagination run away with him.
With his eyes closed again, Glen heard the song. It was like the aroma, glorious. He could not make out words, but it seemed to him there was meaning in that song, and he had to open his eyes again to see what was singing. There were birds, white like doves, but the song they sang was complex beyond anything Glen could have made up, and beautiful beyond anything Glen could have imagined. He was staring at a couple of birds, a smile across his face, when a blackbird jumped between two doves and let out a terrible squawk. It startled him, but only for a second as the doves took that raucous sound and wove it into a thing of beauty. Then he saw another blackbird and he looked closely again. They were everywhere, trying to disrupt the glorious sounds of this heavenly host. They never succeeded, as every sour note and every screech and whistle was taken up by the doves and woven perfectly into the whole. The song was never less glorious for the least moment.
Glen was glad. He could not stop his lips from turning up in a smile for the warmth he felt inside. He thought he would sit again with his back to that trunk where he could feel the pulse of life running up the veins of the tree of life, smell the aroma of life and hear the beauty of the music that was the praise of the heavens. With that, he slept.