Deeply Rooted: Our Hopes and Dreams for Our Children
By: John Blumenstein, PhD, Head of School
During weekly chapels we have been focusing on the theme for the 2018-2019 school year, “Deeply Rooted.” During one particular chapel, the image of an enormous oak tree was projected onto the screen, and students were asked to share what words came immediately to mind, readily responding with such words as “strong,” “majestic,” and “beautiful.”
One particular word from a parent, however, stood out: “acorn.” During the celebration of Cambridge’s 20th Anniversary last year, Michael Pollock, a former head of school, presented the image of a large oak tree and that of a tiny acorn from which its life had begun.
This year as we celebrate the theme “Deeply Rooted,” I invite us to reflect upon our dreams and hopes for the children whom we are called to serve. Let us allow the richness of biblical metaphors to capture our imaginations and to take us far deeper than the shallowness of the day and age in which we live. Tap into the deep-rootedness of character development and the formation of habits that ultimately flow from nourishing children’s intrinsic desire for the good, the beautiful, and the true.
The prophet Isaiah captures something of this deep-rootedness when he delivers a word about God’s dream for us as human beings, a dream that Jesus himself declared as being fulfilled when he read a portion of the following passage in his home town synagogue early on in his ministry (see Luke 4:1ff.):
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. (Isaiah 61:1-3, ESV)
Consider how this powerful metaphor “oaks of righteousness” might inform our dreams and hopes for children. On a wall in my office hangs the image of a strong, majestic, and beautiful oak tree created by my wife Sarah using cross stitch, and underneath the image is Isaiah’s prophetic declaration: “They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor” (Isaiah 61:3, NIV).
Sarah was inspired to create this work of art almost 20 years ago while we were serving at Greenwood Christian School in South Carolina, where the campus had been blessed with a large grove of beautiful oak trees, each one having begun as a small acorn and eventually becoming well grounded by healthy roots that stretched far and deep.
Claire Trainor, a Cambridge parent who spoke during chapel last Friday, reminded us that roots serve a two-fold purpose. On the one hand, they provide stability for the tree to support its tremendous weight as it increases in size and height and, on the other hand, they provide access to water and nutrients to support ongoing growth and health.
As our own children have matured into adulthood, left home, become married, and been blessed with their own homes, Sarah and I have reflected on that image of an oak tree and the prophetic words associated with it. Will they be deeply rooted enough to withstand the storms and uncertainties of life? Will the depth and breadth of their roots serve them well when they face inevitable pain and trials?
During one of the chapels, we also reflected on the underlying Hebrew word tsedeq that is often translated “righteousness” and that can also be translated “justice.” I’ll never forget one of my Hebrew professors emphasizing this word’s connection with what is truly right, “the rightest of the right,” as he would passionately exclaim. The use of tsedeq by Isaiah foreshadows the ultimate reign of God’s peace, justice, and righteousness.
The metaphor “oaks of righteousness/justice” envisioned by the prophet Isaiah ultimately finds its place within the unfolding story of the ultimate triumph of what the Hebrew scriptures call shalom. Although often translated “peace,” this word expresses the ideal of wholeness or completeness, when everything is as it should be, when all is as right as it can be, a restoration of the created order that was fractured as a result of human sin, rebellion, and self-centeredness.
Only after His suffering, death, and resurrection from the dead does Jesus declare to his disciples “Peace be with you” (John 20:19, 21), inviting us to experience peace and wholeness as a gracious and sacrificial gift from God and also inviting us to struggle for that peace and wholeness wherever we encounter fragmentation and its destructive impact on fellow human beings.
What do we dream about for our children? What are our hopes?
Might it just be possible that we need to catch up with the past, acknowledging that the prophet Isaiah, who delivered these words over 2,500 years ago, helps us to see beyond the shallowness of our day and age and to go more deeply?
What does it mean to infuse our dreams and hopes for children with this rich biblical metaphor of a deeply rooted oak tree, a tree that stands upon the strength of character development and the formation of habits that ultimately flow from nourishing children’s intrinsic desire for the good, the beautiful, and the true, deeply rooted in the ideals of righteousness, justice, and peace?
By the way, surely it is no accident that a large, strong, majestic, and beautiful oak tree stands near the center of Cambridge’s new campus at 6200 N. Charles St.