People from Nineveh. Perhaps that should be Ninivans. or Ninis.
I don't know.
But they came to my mind today when I had to speak to a builder about a tree.
Where we live, often people are careless and ignorant about trees.
They do not realise that trees are protective like angels, keeping watch, guarding against drought and flood, slowing down the movement of water through the landscape. They do not know that all the fertility of the Earth is vested in the thin layer of compost wrapped about, that the plants and microbes and micelliae (is that the right word? Micellium; plural) inhabit. More than that, they do not know that trees are ensouled as is all life, and stand in covenant relationship with the God of life. They do not know that, if you must cut a tree (which is unwise except in clear necessity) you have to let it know in good time, so it can withdraw life from the limb you mean to cut.
Just by our home is a most beautiful tree. It has many colours, and flowers.
A few days ago, men came to work on the place where it lives. Rather than work around it, suddenly they cut off two of its branches. Two of us, inside the house, thought they heard a woman scream, and came out to see what had happened: but it was not a human, it was the tree.
After, the tree was deeply shocked, and very angry. So were we, but not as much as the tree.
One of us quietly asked the tree, "Are you okay?" And a sudden wild gust of wind arose and slammed the gate by where the tree lives. That tree was not okay.
When the builders came with their great lorry and began unloading huge things by our garden, I was troubled for our tree, the generous and sturdy greengage that grows in front of our house. So I spoke to the builders, and explained they must be careful of our tree, because we care about it very much.
The man said to me that yes, they had "had to" cut off two branches from the other tree nearby. And then I knew it had bit into his soul even though he didn't realise it — there is a primeval place in him that also heard the tree scream and felt its shock and knew what they did was wrong. It had stuck in his mind. But he is shut off from it by cultural blindness.
And when I was thinking about it, the ignorance and carelessness of human beings, Nineveh came to my mind. In the book of Jonah. You know?
"But the Lord God said, 'You care about this tree that you have not tended. You didn't make it grow. It came, and it will go. Shouldn't I also care about this great city of Nineveh with all these thousands of people who can't tell their right hand from their left — not to mention all the animals?'"
And I liked that perspective. These people, with their carelessness and ignorance, you could well say they cannot tell their right hand from their left, muddling through, no idea of the meaning and consequences of their choices and actions. And then there are, too, all the animals — the badger who potters along the road after dark, the fox who comes for his supper at dusk, the seagulls who tap on the window, the pair of childless jackdaws who love each other truly and huddle close together on the chimney stacks and ridge-tiles, talking quietly. And the crows, each one with a unique call, an individual personality.
Should not God care about all of these, as well as about that one tree? And should not I?
God also cares about the tree. God saw, and heard it scream when they cut it.
I do not know how God holds us in a bag of love; so many suffer terribly. Think of the refugees from Syria living in the woods above Calais, persecuted and riven out by the French police this bitter weather, and the children turned away from England even after we had promised to take them in. When you brood on the world there is so much terror and sorrow, and I am ashamed that my country causes a great deal of it; knowingly, without caring. So I do not really know how it is that God's bag of love holds us all inside; but I know that it does. I know that I am here to further the reach of love.
God also loves trees, not human beings only. And trees — not human beings only — also love God. It is important to take time and trouble in our dealings with trees.
But one has to be patient with these Ninivans who do not know their right hand from their left, even when they saw off the branches on which we all sit. Should not God care about them, even when their ignorance means our downfall?