Outside my office window I can see several trees. There’s a magnificent maple in our neighbor’s back yard. We have a couple of dogwoods and a lovely magnolia tree planted by girl scouts when the church was new. Right now, none of them look like much: they are bare.
This view reminded me of the work of spiritual writer Stephen Foster, who, in his book “Prayer, Finding the Heart’s True Home,” comments on the trees in winter saying,
“…As the leaves drop, one by one all of the irregularities and defects of the tree are exposed. The imperfections are always there, of course, but they have been hidden from my view by an emerald blanket. Now, however, it is denuded and desolate, and I can see its real condition.”
Winter preserves and strengthens a tree. Rather than expanding its strength on the exterior surface, its sap is forced deeper and deeper into its interior depth. In winter a tougher, more resilient life is firmly established. Winter is necessary for the tree to survive and flourish.
To the outward eye everything looks barren and unsightly. Our many defects, flaws, weaknesses, and imperfections stand out in bold relief. But only the outward virtues have collapsed; the principle of virtue is actually being strengthened. The soul is venturing forth into the interior. Real, solid, enduring virtues begin to develop deep within. Pure love is being birthed.” (p. 65)
That’s how it feels right now—at least to me. Winter has a way of making us feel bare, bereft, fragile, stripped of all those things that usually make things lovely. But we need to be reminded of what goes on underground, underneath, hidden. Roots are strengthened, muscles are built up, the core is made more resilient. Yes, freezes are uncomfortable, shoots and even branches may snap off, but real work is going on deep inside.
Every time I look out and see the sorry landscape I’m reminded that this isn’t where the story ends. A new chapter is about to be uncovered. Soon enough we will witness the goodness of the earth, soon enough we will be asked to get in touch with our own inner strength and bloom.
Always, in Christ,