Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.
(Proverbs 13:12 ESV)
Lynn D. Morrissey loves GOD with all her heart, soul, mind and very being. She is a connoisseur of matters of the soul, lyrical prose and collage.
Pour yourself a cup of tea and enjoy Lynn’s reflections on Hope.
Hope for an Artist, Hope for a Tree
(Lynn D. Morrissey)
“Lord, purge our eyes to see within the seed, a tree, within the glowing egg a bird, within the shroud a butterfly. Till, taught by such we see beyond all creatures, Thee.” —Christina Rossetti
“My God, what is a heart, that thou should it so eye, and woo, pouring upon it all thy art, as if thou had nothing else to do? Teach me thy love to know; that this new light, which now I see, may both the work and workman show: Then by a sunbeam I will climb to thee.” —George Herbert
Soon autumn will wane, and winter will arrive. One way we’ll know it’s imminent is in the descent of fall foliage. Branches will release lustrous leaves that twirl tentatively to the ground. There is always hesitancy in letting go of what is beautiful. It feels like loss. Where’s the art in that? Where’s the art in robbing trees of their color, of their leaf-lush glory, exposing their limbs in stark nakedness? Where’s the art in barrenness?
Where’s the art in the artist who wanes, whether by necessity or neglect, whose practice—be it painting, collaging, singing, or writing—has withered, fallen, and blown mostly away like the torched leaves of autumn? Where’s the art in the artist who cannot see God’s purposes and involvement in his abandoned practice, who can no longer see possibilities?
Where, indeed, is God, *Himself*, the Artist of life, in all this stripping, fruitlessness, and despair? Is He present? Does He care? Does He play a part?
Brother Lawrence, a lay brother, who served in a Carmelite monastery in Paris during the fifteenth century and who became best known for his intimate relationship with God, posthumously explored in the book, The Practice of the Presence of God, encountered God, the Artist of life, when he gazed upon a deathlike tree in winter. He saw in its brazen branches, disrobed of leaves, fruit, and flowers, the reality and promise of beauty, of spring, of God. It was said of Brother Lawrence that “ … in the winter tree, seeing a tree stripped of its leaves, and considering that within a little time, the leaves would be renewed, and after that the flower and fruit appear, he received a high view of the Providence and Power of God, which [had] never since been effaced from his soul.”
God saw Brother Lawrence’s heart—a heart searching for truth, but one who could not yet see *Him*. The Lord wooed this humble seeker with the art of His love, putting in his path a living picture, an open window into His presence and character. God used that winter tree, with its promise of transformation, as a powerful metaphor for hope in Brother Lawrence’s conversion—an awakening, he said, that “first flashed in upon my soul the fact of God,” and a love for God that never ceased.
While God could have revealed Himself to Brother Lawrence through the springtime tree, garbed in flowering frock, instead He confronted him with the withered tree of winter. It was that jolting juxtaposition of this stark skeletal structure with the promise of a full-bodied, blossoming tree that quickened Brother Lawrence’s spirit to the overwhelming greatness of God. Suddenly, he could “see” within the tree and beyond, to the God who had made it … and the God who had made him.
Yes, God revealed Himself to Brother Lawrence, who finally saw the light—light streaming like a sunbeam that led straight to Him. From that time forward, this modest monk, whose eyes had been purged by God to see, saw his Father in his everyday round, reflected in the sheen of the pots and pans he so arduously scrubbed daily in the monastery. From the day Brother Lawrence saw Artist God’s light filter through the winter tree’s splayed bones, he saw God’s light everywhere, and everything it touched became sacred art to him.
Could it be that God uses the stripping process as His tutor to enable us to see truth, both about Him and ourselves? What art lessons does the stripped tree teach us? He asks us to have artist-eyes of faith to see beyond apparent appearances, which are often deceiving. He beckons us to believe in what we can’t see.
The patriarch Job exclaimed, “At least there is hope for a tree; if it is cut down, it will sprout again, and its new shoots will not fail.” The tree isn’t dead. It just looks dead. Artists should know that. When we feel dead through stripping, the winter tree teaches us to hope and trust God’s promises of life, flourishing, and possibilities.
Do your eyes see an acorn, or beyond it to an oak? blue egg or red robin? green-sheathed chrysalis or stained-glass monarch? empty canvas or abundant still-life? blank music manuscript or dotted-Swiss notes filling staves? blank computer screen or word-rows sprouting beneath fingertips?
Do your eyes see only what is visible, or beyond to the invisible God? Do you see His creative artistry in converting this to that? Do you believe that He empowers us to create, too—even when you don’t understand how you can, and that *all* things are possible with Him? Will you believe that your art is *not* dead and never will be?
Poet Anne Morrow Lindbergh observed that the winter tree, “stripped and barren, brings more confirmation to the heart than spring’s returning green, more courage to refind the winter-bones of spirit unobscured by summer-flesh of leaves.”
This is paradox, but it rings true. All this stripping of our sated souls, painful though it may be, helps us refind our winter-bones of faith—faith that may have become obscured by besetting sin, bloated by artless distractions, or glutted by the summer-flesh of our fleshy desires for gaudy, leafy show. What a revelation! Do we have more faith or pride in our talent-and-skill leaves than in God who has bestowed them? Is our hope in Him or in our art?
I am personally sick of leaning on my leaves for worth, deceiving myself into thinking that I, myself, have “grown” them. When my leaves are stripped, I can more clearly see the structure supporting them. The trunk can only stand rooted in God, rooted in His love. Branches and leaves are but the outgrowth of this sure foundation. The winter tree teaches me that I can’t grow leaves on my own. I’m dependent on God, and creating my art is always (and must be!) a prayer away.
My daughter’s college art professor taught me another lesson about structure: He said that it’s impossible to draw the human figure well, unless one has studied a cadaver’s skeleton and musculature. It’s only then that the artist knows how skin and clothing should drape. He also said that to sketch a tree, one first must study the winter tree, to see the articulation of large and small branches, which inform the artist where the masses of leaves should appear.
How often have I tried to amass artificial leaves willy-nilly, with no regard for my structure, how God has made *me*?Am I trying to graft maple leaves onto oak? Or do I allow the particular leaves He has naturally bestowed to emerge, where He places them?
I can also become discouraged by how quickly others’ leaves flourish. Mine tend to appear slowly. The winter tree teaches me patience—to see and accept myself as I am. When I do, I am trusting God.
Contemplating the winter tree enriches me, as it did Brother Lawrence. Seeing a tree stripped of leafage has been a way to practice God’s presence, to view the honeyed sunlight of heaven stream through bare branches on earth, a way to “climb a sunbeam” straight to the heart and art of God. Having new eyes to see my art and myself more clearly revealed in God’s new light has been a way to see Him more. And isn’t that the ultimate purpose of life and art: seeing Him?
Lynn D. Morrissey, is a Certified Journal Facilitator (CJF), founder of Heartsight Journaling, a ministry for reflective journal-writing, author of Love Letters to God: Deeper Intimacy through Written Prayer and other books, contributor to numerous bestsellers, an AWSA and CLASS speaker, and professional soloist. She and her beloved husband, Michael, have been married since 1975 and have a college-age daughter, Sheridan. They live in St. Louis, Missouri.
(Copyright 2014. Lynn D. Morrissey. All Rights Reserved.)