The surviving remnant…
shall take root downward and bear fruit upward.
Isaiah 37:31

Once more a remnant of the kingdom of Judah
will take root below and bear fruit above.
2 Kings 19:30

It is a landscape of contrasts now. It is early March, and I have seen Robin Redbreast twice now in our corner of Southwest Wisconsin. This winter, each time I ventured out for cross-country skiing, my route would take me past one of the tallest mullein stalks I had been monitoring all summer, now in its prelude of the third year:  the deadened skeletal stalk, a skyscraper among the waning field grass. It stood tall through the winter winds, a sentinel keeping lonely vigil through the long winter. Yesterday, though, my hike took me a different path, in effort to avoid the muddy trails, and I was delighted to discover a new mullein plant in its dawn of life.

Then the geese came. Their clarion call came echoing on the winds, as if to lift my heart on the wings of their flight.

“Like an eagle that stirs up its nest,
That hovers over its young,
He spread His wings and caught them,
He carried them on His pinions.”
Deuteronomy 32:11

The days are lengthening, and winter days are being eclipsed by signs of spring.

According to the church calendar, we are in the season of Lent. Words have roots just as plants have roots; parsing the word lent gives us a glimpse into its Old English root lencten, which means ‘spring’. We can think of it in terms of the lengthening days. Its liturgical metaphor is Christ’s forty day fast in the wilderness; hence, Lent is the forty weekdays leading up to Easter. Lenten liturgy often includes abstaining from something, typically food, and humbling ourselves: bowing the pride, slowing down, stripping ourselves of excess layers that our fast-food and fast-paced culture has fattened us with.

Laying ourselves low is a little like the plant roots that are propagated with a layering method. There is a donor plant that is “stripped of base leaves, brought low to the soil and buried. With adequate moisture, firm packing of soil and a weight placed over the best branch to keep it in place, roots will grow from the branch. Once roots are established, the branch becomes a new plant and can be severed from the old; it can remain near its parent or be moved about the garden as desired” (Shelley Cramm, NIV God’s Word for Gardener’s Bible, p.443).

Our source text from 2 Kings 19 is indicative of a people humbling themselves before God because of the taunts of the enemy. Buried under the mockeries, layed low and surrounded by a dark outcome, they humbled themselves with fasting, stripping themselves of their identity and different “hats” they wore and donned sackcloth to press in as a community to call on God for rescue.

When we are buried under the weight of work or conflict, do we resist with a rebellious attitude or do we allow God to bring our circumstances into alignment with His story as it plays out in our lives? Do we bow under the weight life presses upon us and wait for God to propagate us in the heavy and dark seasons? Will we muster the faith to send forth shoots of regrowth, in spite of the darkness and weight pressing in upon us?

King Hezekiah prayed for the remnant of his people to survive, and we can skip ahead to the end of their story to discover that their long (lencten) season brought forth fruit, a sacred slow growth which bore “fruit upward.” That fruit was Jesus Christ!

We don’t generally know the end of our story; it hasn’t been written down yet, so we don’t have the benefit of skipping to the end of the chapter we are in. But we do have the benefit of God’s word, full of promises that we can declare over our seasons of contrast. When we cooperate with His Spirit in those dark and heavy times, He gives us the grace to believe that He intends to display His glory in our circumstances. “There’s a humility that comes into the heart of a person that is facing unanswered prayers—these crises, these dilemmas; if you go low enough and keep your heart connected to the One. The gospel is not redefined by our experience…those moments are invitations to discover…the back door to the throne room where great power is demonstrated. It’s almost like the Lord is saying ‘If you can trust me with loss, I can trust you with gain, with an increase in that which brings breakthrough’” (Bill Johnson, “The Secret Place of Power).

In this season of Lent, as we acknowledge the landscape of contrasts around us, may He help us respond to intense circumstances with maturity. May we have faith to believe that the weight that surrounds us is producing fruit above, even as we stretch our roots downward, abiding in the spring rains, abiding in the soil, believing in the promises of new life.

“It’s warm—warm!…
It will make the green points push up and up and up,
and it will make the bulbs and roots work and struggle
with all their might under the earth.”
Mary, in The Secret Garden
Frances Hodgson Burnett

Let my teaching fall like rain and
My words descend like dew,
Like showers on new grass,
Like abundant rain on tender plants.
Duet. 32:2

Every gardener knows that under the cloak of winter lies a miracle…
a seed waiting to sprout,
a bulb opening to the light,
a bud straining to unfurl.
And the anticipation nurtures our dream.
~Barbara Winkler~

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