Just outside my kitchen window, a bare tree stands. I see it there each morning at my first prayers of each Lenten day. While it is in the deep slumber of winter, with not a single leaf showing, it welcomes birds and gives them a place to stand, rest and sing.
It has been my Covid companion, always a little lift, just to see it there. Wind moves its branches, their gentle swaying soothes my spirits. Rain makes it glisten, shiny bark reflects the silver light of day. Recently snow settled briefly on its limbs, swelling tiny sticks. Today seven pink buds opened, I named them after the days of the week, reserving “Sunday” for the most colourful of them. Beneath the surface sap is rising, another ring forming, leaves will soon burst into the warming spring like days. Trees grow till they fall.
The winter tree is clearly defined, the trunk carries the outstretched branches firmly supported. When I go to the altar to pray, the rows of empty benches stretch from sanctuary to door and remind me of my tree. When I catch a glimpse of parishioners, slipping into pray during the day, sitting here and there, they give life like the buds which adorn those branches. For the tree spring will work its magic, it will surely unfold into leaf and the lovely skeleton of the tree will vanish.
Without winter, it’s hard to fully appreciate the way the tree holds itself in nature. The greater challenge is to see how the empty pews carry the living church, which this Covid winter contains at home. My heart yearns for that time when our mid-summer comes and licit gatherings join us like the leaves on the tree into a sea of faces, a chorus of voices, a murmuring of responses. Let the Lenten prayers carry you towards the God who lives in nature, dwells in each other and holds us all in being, till we fall.