When I go running, I circle the Utah State capital and I imagine the walls coming tumbling down. When I walk to the train in still dark hours of morning, past the granite spires of the Mormon temple, I imagine a ‘Visitor’s Welcome’ sign on the front door. Each morning I am greeted by the striving crown of a 64 year old Cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus Libani). She stands just inside the eastern wall that separates sacred from profane, them from us; but her arms reach over the wall, and I can almost touch her spiky needles. She was brought to Utah in 1949 by a woman who visited Palestine and smuggled a then small seedling back in her suitcase. She donated it to the head gardener of temple square.
We don’t have any true cedars in North America. Cedrus Libani should be familiar to most. It was these Cedars that witnessed the defeat of Humbaba, the guardian of the forest, by Gilgamesh and Enkidu. When Horus was tricked by Seth to get inside a casket and Seth cast him into the river, the casket was later embedded in the trunk of a cedar tree and made into a pillar in a king’s castle. Cedars are evoked hundreds of times in the Bible. “The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow like a Cedar in Lebanon (Psalms 92:12). “The whole earth is at rest, and is quiet: they break forth into singing. Yea, the fir trees rejoice at thee, and the Cedars of Lebanon, saying, Since thou art laid down, no feller is come up against us” (Isaiah 14: 7-8).
She is native to the highland mountains of Lebanon. The Phoenicians used her body to build ships. David and Solomon gladly traded their food for her sturdy planks to build palaces and the temple. She was decimated by the greed of men and goats. Not until the first century did she receive protection. The Roman Emperor Hadrian issued a decree protecting parts of the range of the cedars in 118 CE. In 1876, Queen Victoria of England decreed a 102 acre parcel of Lebanon forest under protection of the crown because it contained the “cedars of God.” Today, Turkey is planting millions of cedars in a nationwide effort to reforest the country.
How grateful I am that someone smuggled a tiny seedling back to my home in Salt Lake City! Each time I pass I am reminded of the divine feminine. In Palestine, Asherah, the consort of El and then Yahweh who was worshipped routinely by pre-exile Jews was often represented as a tree, or a tall decorated pole. She is a metaphor for the tree of life itself with its myriad chaotic branches of evolutionary trial and error. She connects earth and sky. She stretches her bows over the wall that so violently separate sacred and profane, body and soul, religion and science. These are false choices. The Cedar of Lebanon reminds me that the sacred is not to be found only in temples of mountain-pillaged stone, but all around us!
Holiness to the Earth! The earth is the house of the Lord!