Listen to the trees of winter, the poet May Sarton said, and learn from them: "I think of the trees and how simply they let go, let fall the riches of a season, how without grief (it seems) they can let go and go deep into their roots for renewal and sleep.... Imitate the trees. Learn to lose in order to recover, and remember that nothing stays the same for long." Especially in late winter, the snow-covered branches bid us to look carefully and listen closely to the Easter wonder God is working within. So let's take a walk through the New England woods and let the trees and all of creation guide us through the Lenten pilgrimage.
The first week of Lent: Enough!
Winter in New England is not just a natural phenomenon; it's a state of mind. (If winter did not exist here, a friend says, then the Puritans, in their grim austerity, would certainly have invented it.) By Ash Wednesday we've all had enough. It's not just the snow. It's the cold. It's the late afternoon darkness. It's the grind of work and school that has gone on nonstop since September.
But while Ash Wednesday is the start of our most difficult liturgical season, the first day of Lent in New England often provides a hint of hope. Things begin to turn. The first pussy willow buds signal the Earth's turning toward the sun. The day's light extends a little longer. A trace of warmth is detected in the late winter air. An occasional crocus even jumps the gun and breaks through the cold ground. We can feel things turning.
Turning. From the Latin word conversio--from which is derived our English word conversion. This Lenten springtime is the season of turning: As the earth completes its spring "turning" toward the sun, Lent calls us to "turn" our spirits and souls away from whatever steals our time and energy away from the things of God buried in the depths of our hearts. Lent calls us to the never-completed work of conversion--the everyday struggle to turn toward the life of God.
Turn us, O God, this Lent. Turn us away from our exhausted, dark winter state of mind and re-turn us to the light and warmth of your compassion and forgiveness.
Early Lent: The mud season blues
New England has a fifth season we locals call mud season. The pristine white of December snow has eroded into a mass of hard, dirty, gray ice. The afternoon temperatures creep up to 40 or so, melting the dirty mounds and turning streets and yards into swamps of cold mud. My wife, Ann, fights valiantly to keep the mud and the sand out of the house--but the mud finds its way not only into our carpets but also into our psyches. Oh, to be clean! To be able to sweep out the winter's dust and dirt, to take off our grimy, worn winter coats and scarves, to put away the shovels and scrapers, to open the windows and let in some light and warmth.
As you swept out of the temple all that muddied your Father's house, O Lord, sweep out of our spirits the cynicism and exhaustion of our winter lives.
Mid-Lent: The sugar run
It is sugaring season here in the Northeast. For six weeks in late March and early April, the great sugar maples are tapped for their sap. …