What finally helped me was an image from a medieval monk, Brother Lawrence, who saw all of us as trees in winter, with little to give, stripped of leaves and color and growth, whom God loves unconditionally, anyway. My priest friend Margaret, who works with the aged and who shared this image with me, wanted me to see that even though these old people are no longer useful in any traditional meaning of the word, they are there to be loved unconditionally, like trees in winter. (from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird)
Lent begins in the winter months. In our contemporary, climate controlled, always on world, the cold wintry beginning of Lent has some effect on our mood toward the ceremony. Winter, in spite of its austere beauty and the winter fun that many enjoy, is still a season of death, dormancy. It is the latent season.
Ash Wednesday is all about death.
We need to be reminded about death… we need to become acquainted with failure… we need to be OK with the fact that humility is our native posture, gratitude is our most basic discipline. Each to be engaged in with every breath.
So we pray the prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”
And we smudge the greasy sign of the cross on one another’s foreheads: “from dust you have come and from dust you will return”.
We ease back into our place, once again, after months of triumph and patting one another on the back, taking joy in our accomplishments and, from our perspective, rightful pride in our experience. We regain our place—our low and humble place.
The winter is the best time to do this. Forced to be reflective by shorter days, by cold and inclement weather. Anticipating the future we wait by returning to the place where we belong–at Jesus’ feet. At the foot of his cross.
It’s here that we are loved once again not for what we are, nor for what we could be and certainly not for what we do but simply because we are. Brittle and fruitless.
Like trees in winter.