Saturday, August 3, 2013

Purple Smokebush: Cloud-like, great for prayer gardens

I see the purple smokebush as a stunning shrub with a kingly sense of royalty, a great plant for a prayer garden. We planted four purple smokebushes 'Cotinus Coggygria Attropurpurea' in the Gethsemane Prayer Garden in May, 2013. Also known as smoketrees, those familiar with them know that their small size (currently four-feet tall) will someday be far larger and will sprawl over a wide area. I have seen some as large as twenty feet tall and wide; ours will be pruned to ten or twelve feet to maintain a full effect.

Purple smokebush planted this year

Mature 15' tall purple smokebush in a neighbor's yard

The four purple smokebushes are part of a larger planting based on Exodus 33:7-34:35. Located near the cross in the Grace Prayer Room, these royal purple smokebushes are complimented by seven flame-shaped upright junipers, five stiff upright junipers, two pieces of stone, a round boulder, a prostrate blue spruce, and a brilliant red-flowering weigela. Together these objects portray a pictorial representation of the encounter that Moses had with the Lord while in the cleft of the rock.

The purpose of this blog entry is to explain how the smokebush fits the role of the cloud from the Bible. Future blog entries are intended to focus on other portions of this Exodus story. But for now, the question becomes, "What is the purpose of the cloud as seen in Exodus and other books of the Bible?"

Whenever this cloud was mentioned in the Bible, God was present. For example:
  • When the Israelites left Egypt, God's presence was there in the cloud by day
  • When Moses went up the mountain, God was there in the cloud
  • When the cloud shifted location in the wilderness, God was directing them to pick up camp and move to another place
  • When Moses went in the tent of meeting to meet with God, the pillar of cloud stood outside the tent
  • When the High Priest went into the Most Holy of Holies in the tabernacle, the cloud was there and God was in the midst
  • When the temple was dedicated by Solomon, he recalled the Lord's proclamation that He would dwell in the cloud (1 Kings 8:12)
  • When Jesus went up the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, John, and James to meet with Moses and Elijah, God spoke out of the cloud
"Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle." Exodus 40:34-35 NKJV
The purple leaves of the Gethsemane Prayer Garden's smokebush indicate royalty – the presence of God.

From outside the cloud, it is very difficult if not impossible to see through it; from within the cloud, objects may be seen. We have planted the smokebush as a visual screen between those praying within the garden and those "outside the camp."

Purple smokebush flower
The heavy amount of moisture in a cloud restricts the ability to see into it. To the Israelites at the base of the mountain in Exodus 19, they knew God was in the cloud but they could not see Him. They were looking towards God from a distance.

Moses could not initially see the Lord in the cloud while on top of Mount Sinai, yet from within the cloud, he saw the Lord pass by (Exodus 34). In Revelation 14:14-16, John beheld One like the Son of Man from within the cloud.

The cloud is formed by loosely coupled masses, much like the flowers of the smokebush. Within this eight-inch blossom, there are little dots which are the seeds for next year's plants. It is striking how much space remains between the tiny branches and seeds, yet the massive effect of the efflorescence prevents seeing through the plant.

As the Egyptian army pursued the Israelites, the pillar of cloud protected His people by providing darkness between the two groups. As the cloud later moved them from place to place, the Lord was both directing and protecting them in their journey across the wilderness. The purple smokebushes are planted as a reminder of the Lord's protection over us.

The Voice of the Lord
The Lord spoke to Moses out of the cloud as a man speaks to a friend. About Himself, the Lord stated He is,
"Merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children's children to the third and the fourth generation." Exodus 34:6-7 NKJV

The purple smokebush, planted near the cross in the Grace Prayer Room, is a reminder that we can hear His voice. We do not have to turn to the smokebush to hear it, but it is a reminder, a picture if you will, of how God speaks to us. He is speaking no matter where we are.

Therefore, the purple smokebush is placed in this quiet and restful place to help us know His royal presence, seek His face, understand His protection, and hear His voice.