A tree of life

February 22, 2021 · Print This Article

When this present lockdown is ended, and at least some of the various restrictions lifted, what are the first things you are planning to do? Top of many people’s list will be seeing friends and family whom they have been unable to be with – at least in person – and whom they have missed. I have to travel to see many of my friends and my family, and I prefer to do that by train – and I am looking forward to taking trains. I may still need to be masked, but train travel, for me, is part of the pleasure of the visit.

Fairly high on my ‘to do after lockdown’ list is to travel to London – by train of course – and then to the British Museum. I have read about an exhibition there that I want to see. It can be found in Room 25 of the museum and is a sculpture called ‘The Tree of Life’. The title of the sculpture might be a familiar term; a description of such a tree can be found at the very end of the Bible where the leaves of the tree are said to be ‘for the healing of the nations.’[1]

The tree in the British Museum is obviously not this tree but, in many ways, it is a reflection of it. The museum and Christian Aid together commissioned the sculpture. Built in 2005, by four artists from Mozambique, from 600,000 surrendered weapons, it represented part of the healing that this country needed after a bitter civil war that lasted fifteen years. It was a war that saw over a million people killed or starved to death. Numbers – statistics – can stop having meaning because we are bombarded with them as various groups attempt to persuade us of their opinion or try and sell us something. To put a million pointless deaths into some sort of perspective, it exceeds the number of deaths from COVID in the UK, or in the US, and is also more than the two put together. Bishop Sengulane of Mozambique, who inspired the project asked the questions:

‘Why should this world have hungry people? Why should this world have a shortage of medicines? And yet the amount of money which can be made available, almost instantly, for armament purposes is just amazing, and I would say shocking.’

The ‘Tree of Life’ is not the only contribution of art that seeks to express the future, which is described by an Old Testament prophet, where people turn their weapons of war into useful and peaceful tools.[2] In the United Nations Gardens in New York there is a huge and hopeful sculpture, standing nine feet tall, entitled ‘Swords into Ploughshares’. The musical Les Miserables ends with the ‘Epilogue’ which contains the lines:

They will live again in freedom
In the garden of the Lord.
We will walk behind the ploughshare;
We will put away the sword.
The chain will be broken
And all men will have their reward.

Art, in its many forms, has a huge contribution to make to our quest for, and need for, peace. Without art, the message might become theoretical. Art demands and evokes an emotional response and I anticipate that response when I eventually get to Room 25 in the British Museum, standing in front of a creation that is so much more than the rusting pile of metal which it could be reduced to.

Maggie Mitchell info@because.uk.com

Maggie is an editor at Because

[1] Revelation 22:2
[2] Isaiah 2:3-4
Image credit: ‘The Tree of Life’ Mozambique. Credit: Christian Aid/David Rose
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