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Out Our Way: The Gospel of the cottonwoods - John 11:25-26


      Out our way, winter can be mighty rough. Those “Alberta Clippers” come roaring out of the Arctic dumping now and dropping temperatures well-below freezing. I recall days when the car would not start even in the carport — and times when the plows pushed up snowbanks well over 10 feet high. One October, the snows and cold hit and knocked out power all over the county and folks lived with candles and lanterns for several days.

Winter is a dark time, for not only is it cold, but it is bleak. The sun sets early and rises late on the Hi-Line in winter, and even when the sun does shine, it’s still pretty barren. The prairies are covered with snow and even when the wind blows off a layer of snow or two, the grasslands are brown and what few trees are to be found appear dead. On a cold, bleak winter day staring at apparently dead cottonwoods, even wrapped up in Charlie’s outback coat, scarf, lined gloves, muck boots, and Charlie’s hat pulled low against the wind, the gloom can seep into the soul as well as the body.  

But the cottonwoods are not dead, nor is the prairie. I read a modern translation of a series of letters written by a French monk who lived some 400 years ago in a monastery outside of Paris. Brother Lawrence was a “nobody” in the monastery and yet his attitude, joy of life and faith in God not only inspired his fellow monks, but bishops, archbishops, and hundreds of lay people. After his death, a biography and some of his letters were collected into a book called “Practicing the Presence of God.” Even peeling potatoes and cleaning pots in the monastery kitchen failed to diminish his faith and sense of being with God. He often claimed to be as aware of Christ being with him in the kitchen as well as the chapel. God was not some distant Being, but a very real Presence in his life in all his daily activities. He explained to some folks that he really began to be transformed from the inside out and realized God was there in even the most mundane daily activities because of a tree.

As a young man, he was sitting under a chestnut tree, one September. The tree’s branches were covered with lush green leaves and filled with ripening nuts. Yet only a few months prior to this, he had seen that same tree in the midst of winter. No chestnuts, no leaves, and no sign of life. And it suddenly occurred to him that his life was like that tree. He had been dealing with a dry and seemingly dead faith, and his life seemed to be pointless. Indeed, although still a young man, he felt used up, dried out and dead inside, just like that tree.

But the tree was not used up, dried out, nor dead. God was at work in the tree even in winter and came the spring and summer and finally the harvest, it came to him that he too was still alive and God had been there even when he did not feel it, and was at work in him in the midst of his own winter.

That opened him to start looking for God and expecting God to be actively present. Over time he found that to actually be true. From then on he began to “practice the presence of God” by seeking to be aware that God was indeed working in his life in all seasons ... even and perhaps most especially in the dark and gloomy days of spiritual winter. Over the years, like that tree that had “spoken” to him, he began to grow again, pushing out leaves of faith and producing “fruit of the Spirit.”

The dark days of winter are not past and many of the trees do appear to be dead in this cold season, but if we will listen with the heart to the “Gospel of the Cottonwoods,” we will remember and rejoice that even in dark and gloom of personal spiritual winter, God is still at work. It is no coincidence that the Passover of Israel and the Resurrection of Christ came in the spring. Look to the cottonwoods and see the miracle it proclaims.

And remember the message of the Resurrection the Gospel of the Cottonwoods points to. It is not for this life only that we have hope (1 Cor. 15:12-19).

Be blessed and be a blessing!

Brother John


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