We lost a mighty tree in our front yard last winter. It was an ash, and yes, it was already dead — defeated by Michigan’s pernicious emerald ash borer. When it toppled during a windstorm, it brought down the electrical wires, snapping a wooden pole, pulling the meter off our house and taking out the cable and internet in one fell swoop. The weight of the massive trunk wrestled the roots from the damp earth, and 80 feet of bark and bole and branch sprawled across the lawn.

Looking at the snarl of boughs and branches, at the mess of roots at its base, I couldn’t help but wonder what God had been thinking when He’d assigned such a small rootball the task of holding up this lofty log.

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 In contrast to the ash’s scant support, I remembered the ample root system of the banyan tree.

I first saw a plastic and steel “banyan” at Walt Disney World, where Robinson Crusoe made his home in its welcoming branches. Years later, on a stroll through historic Coral Gables, Florida, I got to see the real thing. Some 1,200 non-native banyan trees stretch across Coral Gables’ narrow streets, where chameleons (and sometimes children) hide amid their massive trunks and aerial prop roots, and colorful birds rest in the panoply of waxy green leaves.

The banyan, or ficus benghalensis—which is the national tree of India and is considered by some to represent eternal life — stretches the imagination with its complex root system and its spreading canopy. This colossal relative of America’s native mulberry can reach 100 feet tall and more than 600 feet wide. In India, where birds spread the banyan by carrying its seeds across fields and forests, the townspeople often gather under its broad branches. It is said that Alexander the Great once camped with 7,000 of his men under a great banyan tree, which provided shade and shelter for all.

But beyond its amazing breadth, the banyan is remarkable for the many gifts it gives.

  • Its fruit, the fig, is an edible treat.
  • The bark and wood are used for making paper.
  • The roots are used to make rope.
  • The sap is used as a soothing ointment which treats skin inflammations and bruising, and as a conditioner which softens hair and skin.
  • The bark and seeds serve as a tonic, and also help patients suffering with diabetes.
  • The roots and sap can be used to treat skin disorders, dysentery, and toothaches.
  • Industrial products gleaned from the banyan are shellac, glue, a polish for copper and brass, and even rubber.
  • The large, waxy leaves are fed to livestock.
  • Lastly, the slender twigs of the banyan are sold as toothpicks in India and Pakistan, to promote dental health.

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LORD, let me be like the banyan tree. Let my roots grow deep, so that my faith will remain steady and safe when the winds blow. Let me give profusely of myself, sharing with all according to their need. Let my home be always a place of shelter and safety, and let me bask in the sunlight of your grace. Amen.