One of my favorite things about this season is the transparency of the landscape. There is nothing more beautiful to me than a naked tree. When I look upon the starkness of their branches I often feel that the gangly limbs tell my story. I see myself in the bare, outstretched arms– reaching up, up…seeking.
This austerity is all the more beautiful against the palette of a clear blue sky. Every detail exposed, shamelessly put on display. I can see straight through into her heart. A tree in this state of undress can hide nothing. No secrets can be buried in her bosom. She is diaphanous and unassuming, waiting for her season of finery to arrive. Yet, in the absence of her trinkets and baubles, she reveals little of who she is, donning the disguise of anonymity. She is wrapped in a cloak of mystery.
But perhaps she is most beautiful to me when silhouetted against the approaching night…colors melting into one giant shadow of branching arms, beckoning me, calling me into the dusky colors of the sunset. She makes my heart ache with the way she stands so sure and proud.
I often feel naked and vulnerable as this unadorned masterpiece. I long to stretch my arms up and root myself to the earth, drinking in my nourishment from tiny tentacles; nursing dormant splendor, tending it until the time arrives for it to burst forth in glory.
But unlike the tree, my seasons are not so predictable. And I must be content to wait. For I know that when the tree appears to lie dormant, beneath the surface the roots are far from quiescent. This is the time of strengthening, the time of preparation. This is the silent labor.
St. John of the Cross calls this the dark night of the soul.
This seeming depression is an empty time. I search frantically for some feeling, some sense of connection with my God; but I seek in vain, for such has abandoned me in this season. But nature tells me I must not despair; I must not give up hope. To remain true to the tree…I must wait.
Richard J. Foster, in his book Celebration of Discipline, says this about this root strengthening season:
The dark night is one of the ways God brings us into a hush, a stillness so that he may work an inner transformation upon the soul…When God lovingly draws us into a dark night of the soul, there is often a temptation to seek release from it and to blame everyone and everything for our inner dullness. The preacher is such a bore. The hymn singing is too weak. The worship service is so dull. We may begin to look around for another church or a new experience to give us ‘spiritual goose bumps.’ This is a serious mistake. Recognize the dark night for what it is. Be grateful that God is lovingly drawing you away from every distraction so that you can see him clearly. Rather than chafing and fighting, become still and wait.
When I feel my spiritual growth is stunted; when my heart won’t be stirred by the Words I hold so dear…I smile. For I know God is doing a work inside of me. A work so deep that I cannot see its labor.
We must let our roots be nourished. We wait for the season of glory to burst forth. It may not be the time, but it will come. The blooms will burst forth in feathery grandeur. The dark shadow of night will be overtaken by the fruits of this labor of love. And oh, how beautiful the transformation!