Author: Timothy Matthew Slemmons
Illustrator: Timothy Matthew Slemmons
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Audience: Youth and adults
Summary: Salix Babylonicus, the weeping willow, may have a bad reputation as a pest tree in the modern world, but its true character is one of tenacity and empathy, according to this story. It bore witness to the bitter and homesick cries of the Jews in exile in Babylon and still channels God’s healing heart today.
Literary elements at work in the story: The main character of this parable is the Great Salix, the tree which sheltered a young Jew by the Euphrates River during the Babylonian exile and heard his sad, bitter, and even angry cries to his God. The Great Salix quotes scriptural passages from Romans, the Beatitudes in Luke, Psalms, and Jeremiah. None is specifically attributed, but their language, woven into the story, adds to the power of the narrative. By personifying this one tree and focusing on one anguished Jew, the author brings a new lens to the story of the Babylonian captivity. At the same time, emotional details are told rather than experienced, and the tone of the story has the feel of myth. Slemmons’ lovely digitally-altered color photographs enhance this other-worldly impression.
How does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story? The story is about the emotions of a people in exile, but otherwise these perspectives do not apply.
Theological Conversation Partners: While this book looks like a children’s picture book, its language and theme are likely more complex than the average elementary student would understand or appreciate. It might better be used with youth who are studying the Babylonian exile or even with groups or individuals who are struggling with issues of faith. The willow tree plants itself close by a source of water, and its roots reach deep into the stream bed. When drought comes, as it surely will, it does not dry up. So, too, must we grow roots deep into God’s limitless love in order to survive our own times of drought. Another point which this parable makes quite poignantly is that we humans need places where we can pour out our laments without fear of censure. The Great Salix wept with the exiled Jew when he came to sit under its branches, and the tree comforted the young man with the assurance of God’s steadfastness. We would all do well to model our Christian empathy on the weeping willow.
Faith Talk Questions:
- Why do you think that Salix Babylonicus tells the story of where he came from? Why has that story been passed down from generation to generation?
- Willow trees grow beside bodies of water, and that is the source of their tenacity. What is the source of your strength?
- If we are firmly rooted in our faith in God, what happens when hard times come to us?
- The Great Salix tells about a young Jewish exile who comes to sit beneath his branches. What sorts of things does the young man say?
- What sorts of things are ok to say to God?
- How might we be like the Great Salix when friends come to us with their troubles?
Thanks to Union Presbyterian Seminary alumna Beth Lyon-Suhring for today’s book review.