Sunday, April 17, 2016

A Story of the Trees by Rev. Jay Banasiak

A Story of the Trees                                                             Rev. Jay Banasiak
Rev. Jay Banasiak lives in Chattanooga, TN, where he woodworks, composes/arranges sacred music, and cares for his mother who has ALS. His woodwork can be viewed on his Facebook and Etsy pages for Jay Ban Works.

I inherited a stack of wood. A stack of wood is not one's typical item of inheritance, but this stack of wood possesses a story that began for my family well over a century ago. My grandfather grew up on a farm in Durham County, North Carolina, during the early 20th Century. His family was one of many merchants and farmers in that area of central North Carolina. A large black walnut tree provided walnuts and shade in the front yard of their farmhouse for two generations and possibly more. In the early 1940s, the aged tree fell over and remained recumbent in the front yard for a handful of years, before my grandfather had the tree milled and stacked in the basement of his and my grandmothers' first home in Durham. The stack of wood traveled to their second home in the mid-1960s, which by then included some oak and cedar sprinkled in, where my grandfather began to work the wood into toys, small accessories, and beautiful furniture, and where the rest of the stack remained until 2007...when I inherited it.

My love of woodworking stems from both grandfathers and my father, who were all hobbyist woodworkers. I have been a hobbyist woodworker for several years and only recently increased my work output and began selling it. This stack of beautiful black walnut lumber that has lived through several generations of my family supplied my woodworking starting point and is worth more to me than the monetary value. Through careful refinement of three generations, the stack of wood has yielded practical accessories of lamps, candlesticks, bowls, toys, and more; a stunning baby cradle that I slept in; and now all these years later, it graces the homes of fellow Presbyterians as cutouts of the Montreat Gate, Christmas ornaments, and the Seal of the PCUSA. The story the wood tells lives on in the works of art created from it and inspires me to continue the family tradition of woodworking.

Reclaimed wood, such as this black walnut tree, is not my only source of wood for my woodworking, but it is certainly my preferred choice. In caring for God's creation, I am drawn towards reclaiming (or salvaging) wood that has either fallen due to natural causes, was intentionally felled for other reasons, or removed from old buildings. The same principles of reclaim/recycle/reuse that we apply to the goods of our daily waste can be applied to the goods of creation. If I had the storage space, I would grab all the salvaged wood I could. (Although, if I had an old, wooden barn that could hold additional stock of wood, my personal dilemma would be choosing between using it to store the wood, or carefully taking it apart and reclaiming the wood for new use!) Such wood has a story of its own that begs to be remembered and told. In addition to the black walnut, I have reclaimed logs, planks, and chunks of wood from several places which are a part of my story: white pine I planted as a 6th grader but removed for safety, maple I pruned from the front yard, and white oak removed by TVA from the woods behind my childhood home; red oak from my grandparent's yard removed after a storm; maple taken down at my former congregation during a recent building expansion; red oak & pine felled for safety at Massanetta Springs Presbyterian Conference Center; as well as poplar lumber salvaged from recent renovations in the Anderson Auditorium at Montreat Conference Center. My friends know enough of my love of reclaiming wood that several have offered me additional logs and planks as well.

God's story is not only told in the stories of God's people, but in the story of God's creation. Isaiah tells us,

“For you shall go out in joy,
            and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
            shall burst into song,
            and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.” (Isaiah 55:12)

The elements of creation that watch over us all have a story to tell as they burst into song and clap their hands. Though they cannot use words, the stories that these trees know keep us connected to creation, if we take the opportunity to listen. Every piece of wood that is salvaged reclaims a story that God intends to be shared. When we reclaim the trees felled as the results of natural causes, laid waste by urban cutting, or removed for safety or other intentional reasons, we are giving grace to God's creation and salvation to the stories held within. The tree itself may die, but the wood left behind becomes a book of stories that acts as the next vessel to carry the tree's knowledge. Many people share stories about the trees in their lives: trees they climbed, trees that provided shade, trees that were beautiful to look at, and more. Someone may say, “That's a pretty piece of woodworking,” but when the owner/artist can respond, “ is made from wood that comes from a tree that once stood in the yard of my grandfather's childhood home,” the piece becomes all the more historical, special, and theological.

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