Apical Dominance. Spiritual Formation series, part 6.


For one year during my college years, I tutored a Korean-American high school sophomore named Stephen. Our primary focus was his Biology class (my degree was in the sciences). I mostly remember that he was a really great kid and that we laughed a lot.

If you’ve ever taught anyone anything before, you won’t be much surprised to find that I am quite certain that 1) I learned far more about high school biology than Stephen did that year and 2) I enjoyed the learning far more than he did. When the learning is not required and so its purpose is one’s own personal and private enrichment, of course one absorbs and enjoys it far more.

And so, every Friday afternoon, you could find Stephen and I studying together in Owen Science & Engineering Library, whose carpet and decor had been last updated sometime circa 1968. It was hideous. Burnt orange and sepia brown are way too close on the color spectrum to do any good together in very large quantities.

Anyway, one day we were studying trees and we stumbled upon something amazing (I, aghast; he with reserved boredom): apical dominance.

Apical dominance is the name for the ‘phenomenon’ by which the cells of the main stem (trunk) of the tree actually grow faster than the cells of the side branches. The cells at the tip of the main stem have differentiated in such a way that their DNA tells those cells to replicate more readily than the rest of the cells in the tree. It is the simple explanation for why trees are tall and relatively skinny and, well, trees …as opposed to all spherical bushes. An important note: cells replicating too readily is usually a problem, not a good thing. Cells replicating more quickly than others is precisely where we get cancer, tumors, and the like. But not so with trees and apical dominance. Fascinating, right? 😉

So, I have thought about apical dominance from time to time ever since that day, sort of looking for a metaphor or an analogy for my life.

The linear, individualistic, if-this-than-that doer in me wants to say, “See, so if you read your Bible and pray and say nice-sounding things more than you do anything else, your spiritual cells will grow faster and then you’ll grow up to be a proportionally perfect, balanced human being…” or some such nonsense.

But today I think I finally thought of a way that the metaphor of apical dominance weaves its way into my life. It is just a prayer. It might sound a little bit cheesy to you, but I may never look at a tree the same way again. Maybe you won’t either.

God, I want “Love” to grow with apical dominance in my life. I want to practice Love, experience Love, give Love, choose Love, talk about Love, forgive with Love, Love without conditions, lead with Love, sacrifice for the sake of Love, know Your Love, and open myself up to Love and to be Loved more than anything else. What a life I might lead if that were to be true! Reaching up to You, reaching out to others; tall in all the right ways, filled-out in all the right ways; just whatever kind of tree you created me to be. Amen.