The Emerald's Allure

Is green the color of heaven and the angels? Green has significant, spiritual meanings--in nature, in various faiths and cultures, and even in the Wizard of Oz.


I was born in May, which makes my birthstone the emerald. This is fitting enough because I've always had a strangely close relationship with the color green.

For my birthday the year I turned 7, my mother gave me an almond-sized, rough-cut piece of transparent green stone that she said was an emerald.

Was it really? I don't know. It's long since lost, and my mother, now 88, doesn't remember it. But whatever it was, for years I kept it with a small number of other ultra-precious possessions, like a shark's tooth and a thimble-sized ceramic caveman. Like most young boys, I didn't have much appreciation for precious stones. But this little rock was different. Why? Because it was green, and green was just . . . more mysterious than other colors.

I grew up in northern Virginia in a cow barn that my father converted into a living space in the early '60s. The tin roof of this barn was painted a deep, dark green: one that, in the summer months, blended perfectly with the equally rich greens of the trees that crowded around it. Virginia might not be the greenest state in the country, but it's certainly one of them, and in late August, driving south on Interstate 95 from wherever we'd gone for our summer vacation, it felt like the trees and the grass just kept getting ever and ever more green the closer we got to home.

Finally we'd hit the Washington Beltway, then the exit for McLean. I'd roll down the window and the sound of cicadas would flood in. As we got closer to the house that it felt like we'd been away from for so long, I'd always get the same feeling: a kind of half-pleasant, half-frustrating homesickness. Oddly enough, this homesickness didn't disappear when we finally pulled into the barn's gravel driveway. If anything, it just got stronger. Those green summer homecomings gave me one of my first intimations that there is a certain kind of yearning for home that can't be cured by going there. Or at least not to any of the homes we know here on earth.

Homesickness was what I felt when I looked at that little emerald-green rock my mother gave me. Green may be the most earthly of colors, but in the glassy depths of that magical little stone, I got a hint that it might just be the color of heaven as well.

Any decorator today will tell you that green is one of the most comforting colors, and ancient peoples knew this, too. From green Eden to the "green figs" of the Song of Solomon to the "green pastures" of Psalm 23 and the "green trees" that show up in prophetic writers like Isaiah and Jeremiah, the color green is one of the most consistent symbols of peace, plenty and consolation in the Bible.

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