In midwinter here in England the trees show their bare bones. Gone are the vibrant blossoms of Spring, the lush foliage of Summer and the fiery splendour of Autumn. Cold trees form stark silhouettes against winter skies. Even in the midst of gale and storm there is a stillness about winter trees.
It is an illusion. In Winter the work of the tree is all underground, the leaf mulch of Autumn feeding the roots and strengthening the tree from within. Not much is happening in plain sight but the tree is restoring and repairing itself, pregnant with Spring.
In our own times of stillness similar things occur. Whether it be the waiting time of Advent, the slide inwards into silent contemplation, or the outer stillness of illness or grief, much is going on underground. It is often when our to-do lists remain unchecked and our sense of achievement flags that the true work is underway. This may feel far from pleasant or desirable at times. It may be the hardest act of doing nothing. Slowness and going inwards can be hard work, even though nothing much appears to be happening on the surface, and it can be hard doing the waiting and apparently achieving nothing during the process, but our Spring too will come, and it may be only then that the hard underground work of our Winter becomes apparent.
There is a strength in trees that is quite different from the strength we might seek. Often we seek the strength of iron, the strength that is sturdy and unmovable, that holds things in place and cannot be penetrated. Yet iron will fracture under pressure just because of those immovable, impenetrable qualities that give it strength. Iron strength will do until we meet our own personal storm, and then we find we cannot rely on it to support us after all. And thank God, because it is often only in the storm that we discover our need for tree strength, and thus begin to find it. In the storm we may learn the strength of trees, which bend before the breeze and then return to their centre. Some of the most beautiful trees have been shaped by the wind into wonderful shapes and angles, yet still stand firm. We, too, can be shaped by all of our experience if we can allow ourselves to bend with it and keep our centre.
What is pregnant within you this Wintertide? How have you been shaped by the storms in your life, and what is the blossom that has emerged?