Today, the trees were turned to glassy silver.
This was the result of a collision between two of the most ubiquitous realities of the present season: dreary precipitation and bitter cold. In some places, like New England and New York over the last few weeks, the ratio is such that what you get is heaping after heaping of white snow. In other places, like the region of central Texas where I grew up, you get sleeting rain and slick ground. Today, in Georgia, I woke up to crystalline trees.
Underneath the early morning cloud cover, there was something dismal and austere about them. They stood there, frozen and gunmetal gray, hardly moving in the still morning air. Creation itself seemed appalled by the cold. And yet, as the day unfolded, the overcast sky began to dissolve, and patches of pale blue were made visible. And through those patches, here and there, spilled sunlight. It had been there all along. Only hidden. Not absent.
And those trees, their limbs encrusted in ice, began to sparkle. Beneath those paroled rays of sun, all that had been frozen became lively, ebullient. They caught the eye not with gloom but with hope.
And I thought to myself, how beautiful it is when something is frozen.
But then I realized that what made the limbs of all these trees beautiful was not the fact that they had been frozen, but the fact that they were in the process of being unfrozen. It was not the ice itself that dazzled my eye and filled my heart with promise, but rather the thaw.
The sunlight played within those crystals of ice in extraordinary ways, while the slight rise in temperature began to soften them. The trees were slowly, methodically warmed, and their limbs were, little by little, liberated.
So it is with my own life, and, specifically, my own selfishness. On the eve of Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the season of Lent, I cannot help but see myself as one of those frozen limbs, and the Church as that great tree appalled by the turn of coldness in the world – a world from which we do not stand separate. There is so much selfishness, it seems. It lays as close to us as a winter chill on the skin. We feel hardly able to move, sitting numb under a leaden sky and a bleak horizon.
Ah, but the Son is peeking through. He is not absent. He sees us, shines on us. He is the One who begins in us a great and liberating thaw.
He makes us beautiful.