(Note: What follows is an imaginative prayer practice that manifested itself in a different sort of way. I offer it as an encouragement, as you continue in your own imaginative prayer practice, which–I hope you’ll see–can happen in a multitude of ways. Spend time this week noticing the trees. Then be free to follow whatever kind of questions and wonderings that come to mind.)
My dear trees;
I look at you outside my office window. I stare at you on every afternoon run. Your nakedness against the winter sky is shocking. You stand there, bare branched, reaching out and up. Every crookedness revealed–every scar and scabbed over place proving where you’ve suffered loss, been mistreated, or handled carelessly.
And yet, you stand there. Completely exposed. No matter what insecurities might lie beneath the surface, you hold your branches open-armed, defiant of any shame. To me, this apparent insubordination looks more like a desperation of faith.
How do you do it? How do you stand so tall and open-hearted, despite being every day undressed and unprotected? It seems almost indecent, the way you keep yourself wide open to the elements and scrutiny. And yet, I admire it deeply. You insist on your naked pose as if you possess some secret of the world.
What is it you gain by this wintertime exposure, allowing all to gaze upon your imperfections?
My father—the forester turned farmer—taught me the best time for identifying you is in your stripped down wintertime state. This is opposite of my intuition. My instinct is to judge you by your summertime leaves. But he says it’s your winter self when one can best know you; recognize the contours of your shape, the features of your trunk, the pattern of your branching, and the texture of your bark. If this is the case, I see how it behooves you to stand bare before us at least part of the year.
If only we will have eyes to see and take time to contemplate your naming.
Science books and gardening magazines tell me it’s in wintertime you do your best branching underground. Without greedy green leaves to feed, you can rest above and focus instead on nourishing your root system beneath the surface. What I see of you branched out and frozen against steely-blue winter skies, is only a part of you. Beneath my feet your roots are pushing out and down, to nearly twice your width above the earth, securing yourself ever-deeper into the soil. It’s like a kind of inkblot painting; this beauty dance of symmetry in which you whole-heartedly engage.
I have also read that while you might look stalwart and forlorn above the surface, you’ve created quite a network of neighborliness underground. Through these roots you grow out in winter, you pass along nutrients and send warning signs. You emit chemical compounds, electrical impulses and even use fungi to carry messages to other trees. All beneath the surface, you nourish sickly neighbor and help one another from harsh conditions and insect prey.
If you send one another warning signals, do you encourage one another, too? Is this how you are able to stand through this world’s harshest throes? Reminding one another keep reaching into the truth and goodness of what you’re made to be?
Why fear the world’s scorn when the world’s praise isn’t what you’re after?
All this to say, dear trees, I deeply admire you. I am stunned by your naked beauty. I am jealous of your bold commitment to stand unclothed for all to see. I long for your steadfastness as you wait patiently for your adornment come spring.
And, I hear—ever so faintly—your invitation. I am smitten by the thought of it; that you would beckon me to live as you. So, wooed in fact, I might say yes.
For, I recognize a greater truth and goodness you reveal. To wait expectantly like you, wide-open in unashamed delight, reaching only for the One who made you, is to one day find yourself naked no more; rather clothed in reams of splendor color; a gown of brilliant white.
With all affection,