Rev. Ross M. Reddick, Lead Pastor, Sycamore Presbyterian Church
Back in March, I had the privilege of attending a conference hosted by Columbia Theological Seminary. The “Just Creation: Shalom for our Common Home” conference was a powerful time of sharing and learning focused on environmental justice, ecological stewardship, and theology of creation care. The dialogue among seminary leaders, theologians, scientists, artists, and activists was among the best continuing education experiences I’ve had in my 12 years of ordained ministry.
During a side conversation before one of the workshops, I was talking with a man who had spent some time in India years back. There, he’d learned about the Khasi tribe of India’s northeastern region.
Because of the monsoon season in India, bridges are a vital component of life; the Khasi people need to be able to cross rivers and streams safely—to hunt, to forage, to live life. Accordingly, the Khasi have learned what makes a good bridges. And it’s probably not what you think.
With no milled lumber in sight, and no single nail, screw or other hardware, the Khasi build their bridges from roots….living roots!
These bridges are made by carefully training the roots of rubber trees to grow across streams and rivers, allowing people to cross safely. The Khasi tribe has been building these bridges for centuries, and they have come to symbolize their ingenuity, perseverance, and unity as a people group.
To build a root bridge, the builders select a suitable location where a stream or river needs to be crossed. They then plant rubber tree saplings on either side of the water body, and guide their roots to grow towards each other. Over time, as the roots grow, they are woven together and strengthened with the help of bamboo and cane. The roots grow stronger and thicker, creating a sturdy and durable bridge that can withstand the weight of people and animals. With time and attention, what seems impossible comes to life.
Maintaining a root bridge requires continuous effort and care. The Khasi tribe regularly prunes the trees and removes dead leaves and branches to ensure that the roots remain healthy and strong. They also replace the bamboo and cane as needed, and reinforce the bridge with additional roots as it grows longer and wider.
The images of these root bridges are mesmerizing to me. You should google them and see. Beyond the beauty and ingenuity, these living bridges led me to wonder about a few things:
My prayer is that we can borrow some wisdom from the Khasi. Because just as they have learned how to connect two sides of a river, we are called to connect people with each other and with God. At its best, the Church can serve as a bridge between different cultures, languages, and backgrounds, bringing people together and creating a sense of holy community which is greater than the sum of its parts. Like these living bridges, may God continue to animate us through the gift of water, strengthen us by careful training, guide us toward one another, and use us in relevant ways to serve the world. Keep rooting for me, and I’ll keep rooting for you.