This psalm talks about us being like well-watered trees, “bearing luscious fruit each season without fail”. They bear the fruit because they have good water and good soil. What you get out depends on what you put in.
There are several ways to explore this with science; some are quick and easy, some take a little longer (but you can always do a “Here’s one I prepared earlier!”). These are great activities for an interactive service, for Messy Church does Science, for youth groups, Collective Worship or a Bible study group with a difference!
Gather some pairs of foods, one a big-name brand, the other a supermarket lookalike. Make sure that some are pretty much indistinguishable (eg custard cremes) and others very different (eg instant mashed potato).
Set up a blind taste test, with folks sampling the two brands of biscuit, two types of orange juice, two sorts of cornflakes etc, then trying to guess which is the ‘brand’ and which the lookalike.
If you want to get plenty of science in, you can discuss how to make the test fairer, for example:
- don’t call them samples 1 and 2, because that might imply that number 1 is better
- make sure people try the samples in different orders, not always one first, because that might affect their answers
- make sure people get the same size sample from both varieties
- make sure people cannot see other people’s answers, because they might be tempted to follow the crowd
Afterwards, discuss why some were the same (same factory, same recipe, just different packaging?) and some different (different ingredients / recipe?). How could that relate to us? We are what we eat, in more ways than just food.
If you have a short session you might want to start some flowers off the day before. But for a longer session, such as Messy Church, if you do this at the beginning you should start to see a change by the end.
Choose some white flowers, such as carnations or daisies, and stand them in cups of water with food colouring. You should see the colour start to appear in the petals after a couple of hours, becoming fully coloured after a day or so. Shorter stems work more quickly, and you can speed it up by keeping the flowers warm or in a breeze.
The science bit: Plants draw up water from their roots, (or stem for cut flowers), by ‘transpiration’. The water in their leaves and petals evaporates through tiny pores, and the plant replaces it by drawing water up through mini-tubes that run up the plant’s stem – like sucking water up a straw.
To get a multi-coloured flower, you can either split the stem in two at the bottom and stand each half in a different colour of water. This should make half the flower one colour and half the other. Alternatively, put the plant in one colour for a few hours and then another colour. With a bit of luck you will get both colours on each petal!
Take a stick of celery and spit it half way up. Stand it in a glass of water, half in and half out, then leave it in a warm place for a couple of hours.
You should find that one half is starting to wilt while the other half is still fresh and crispy. You can also put celery in coloured water, as above. You will see the colour appear in dots at the top cut edge or in the leaves.
This is a longer-term experiment, great for the classroom or as a take-home for children do themselves. We can put some proper science into this by controlling variables (same amount of liquid, same amount of sunlight, same type of plant, etc) and recording results (height each day, photographs, etc)
You will need around 6 small plants, all of the same type and same(ish) size. Choose a selection of liquids that you will give to the plants, for example: tap water, fizzy water, milk, salt water, orange juice, tea. Which do you think the plants will like?
Measure the plants at the start and label each one with one of your chosen liquids. Give each one the same volume of liquid each day, and measure its height.
How does the liquid affect the plant’s growth?
Trees and water feature a lot in the Bible. There’s the Tree of Life, watered by rivers from Eden, right at the beginning of the story. And again, right at the end, “the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God … On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month.” (Gen 2 and Rev 22)
I find it interesting in this psalm, we are the trees that bear fruit each season. I’m not sure how that fits into John’s picture from Revelation, but I think it bears some pondering.
Two consistent features in all these images, though, are that trees need water, and trees bear fruit. And every farmer and gardener will know, especially in this year of droughts, that you need the one the get the other. What you get out depends on what you put in.
That’s why the psalmist describes God’s people as being like a well-watered tree, “bearing luscious fruit each season without fail”. Oooh, it makes me drool just thinking about it – juicy peaches, zesty lemons, pears with so much juice that it runs down your arm when you bite into them. Lovely!
If we take in the good stuff, we’ll be full of the good stuff, and the good stuff will flow out of us. Jesus said the same thing when he reminded his disciples that “the mouth speaks what the heart is full of”. (Luke 6:45, Matt 24:34)
Psalm 1 Living Bible
Oh, the joys of those who do not follow evil men’s advice, who do not hang around with sinners, scoffing at the things of God. But they delight in doing everything God wants them to, and day and night are always meditating on his laws and thinking about ways to follow him more closely.
They are like trees along a riverbank bearing luscious fruit each season without fail. Their leaves shall never wither, and all they do shall prosper.
But for sinners, what a different story! They blow away like chaff before the wind. They are not safe on Judgment Day; they shall not stand among the godly.
For the Lord watches over all the plans and paths of godly men, but the paths of the godless lead to doom.
Living Bible (TLB)
The Living Bible copyright © 1971 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Thank to Playdough to Plato for images.
You can find simlar experiments at https://www.playdoughtoplato.com/kids-science-bicolor-flowers/