The transition from Winter to Spring is a lovely metaphor for Lent. It is convenient that in the Northern Hemisphere, Lent begins at the end of winter and ends with the first buds of spring. On a recent nature walk I came upon a four-year-old boy and his father. They had stopped on the path waiting for mom and baby to catch up when I happened to pass by. I overheard the conversation between father and son. The little boy was enraptured by the tree that was right in front of him. With a distinct giggle, the little boy exclaimed, The tree is naked! The father seemed confused as to how to respond to his son’s preoccupation with what he described as a naked tree. He rattled on about how the leaves had fallen off because of winter, but the child insisted that the tree was naked, implying that it was somehow defected. He didn’t accept his father’s reasonable explanation.
As I passed, I pondered the profound reality this little boy, like the boy in Hans Christian Anderson’s famous fairy tale—The Emperor’s New Clothes—had insisted we all consider. I could reasonably wonder about the boy himself. After all, the park where we were walking was full of thousands of trees in a similar state, not to mention that most of the trees this little boy lived among were naked just like that particular tree. Why had he suddenly had an epiphany because of this one tree that stood before the place he was told to stop and wait for his mom to catch up? Who knows what goes on in the minds of four-year-old boys?
I spent the rest of my walk looking at the naked trees. What I realized again is that it is good to have a time of nakedness in winter in preparation for new growth. The season of Lent is a time of setting aside a certain number of days to consider, in a unique way, that we, like the trees, are naked. All the fruit and beauty that comes from us is not our own doing—it is from the Spirit of God living in and through us. When it gets right down to it, we are all naked before God.
As I focused on the naked trees, I saw some things that are hidden from view in other seasons. I could see the many bird nests that were carefully constructed during seasons past. Many of those birds had left for the winter, and even though they were no longer living here in the Nature preserve I could remember them by the homes they made. I could remember how they once delighted me and hope that they would return to find a place to live and bring new life.
I live a fruitful life. There are many people who would say that I have helped them draw closer to God or made a positive difference in their lives. I can see the fruit of my obedience to God’s calling and leading. Underneath all the fruit is a naked tree, just like this little boy spoke about. My nakedness needs to be considered. We must accept the reality that we are all naked trees underneath. The season of winter makes that apparent for the physical trees of the universe; the season of Lent makes it apparent for the spiritual plantings of the Lord. Consider your nakedness. Recognize that you are nothing but a naked tree without God’s love, forgiveness, mercy, and goodness. Let the season make you aware that you cannot become a planting of the Lord without the work of the cross. Isaiah 61:1-4 is Jesus’ hope for your life that you would become a planting of the Lord:
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion-- to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. They shall build up the ancient ruins; they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.
On Ash Wednesday, you remember you are dust, during Lent remember that you are naked!