The beauty of a barren tree leads Debra Black to understand the beauty of the soul freed from its burdens.
One morning, I was in the church kneeling before the Tabernacle. My gaze went to the window above it. Through the haze of the drizzling rain stood a tall, leaf-barren tree. High up in the tree was a very large bird’s nest. And it struck me how much life is hidden from us until the dead exterior is shed.
In the Christmas season, perhaps more than any time of the year, we are in contact with people of whom all we see is the dead exterior. Whether it be family, friends, strangers on the street, or the store clerk, each is a life created for union with God waiting to be set free from the dead matter enclosing them.
We spent Advent waiting for the greatest gift, God Himself, to be born into our hearts. Have we permitted Him to change us? What can be shed and given to Him, so that He can re-create us to be the person He originally intended us to be? Our authentic self? Imagine how the world might change if, through us, people saw true authenticity. Coming to mind is St. Faustina’s writing that our misery is the only true gift of our own we can give to God (all else He has first given to us).
We do not pray in order that we change God's will; rather, we pray to change our own. (Ven. Fulton J. Sheen)
Every Christmas we have the opportunity to welcome Jesus anew into our lives and hearts. It is now the New Year and we endeavor to live this out. But whether it is just a passing hello, or we instead allow Him to take up residency permanently, depends upon our readiness and receptivity. Although He is complex and beyond our understanding, God is actually quite simple to know. We are the one who complicates the relationship, not Him.
Problems in our own life drill down to love, and when the absence of love presents itself in our earthly relationships, we must look to our own healing first rather than the other person. The only solution is to make a beeline straight to God to unload more dead matter from our soul. It is then that we have eyes to see the beauty in our own barrenness and in theirs too.
The difficulty with prayer is that, once we are settled in with God, then what? What should I say to Him? How do I keep my mind from wandering? Our saints had these same problems! Saint Romuald’s advice might help:
Saint Romuald’s Brief Rule
Sit in your cell as in paradise. Put the whole world behind you and forget it. Watch your thoughts like a good fisherman watching for fish. The path you must follow is in the Psalms — never leave it.
If you have just come to the monastery, and in spite of your good will you cannot accomplish what you want, take every opportunity you can to sing the Psalms in your heart and to understand them with your mind.
And if your mind wanders as you read, do not give up; hurry back and apply your mind to the words once more.
Realize above all that you are in God's presence, and stand there with the attitude of one who stands before the emperor.
Empty yourself completely and sit waiting, content with the grace of God, like the chick who tastes nothing and eats nothing but what his mother brings him.
Let 2021 be the year to shed the dead weight in your soul and free it to dance in the breath of the Holy Spirit’s love.
Copyright 2021 Debra Black
Image: Mat Reding (2020), Unsplash
About the Author
Debra Black is a spiritual director, perpetual member of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, international educator, and businesswoman. Her public service roles have spanned city commissioner, pregnancy clinic board of directors, youth and college ministry, public citizen activism, and homeless street ministry. Her writings can be found at TheFaceOfGraceProject.com, including her latest book, The Life Confession: A Discovery of God’s Mercy and Love.