Richard Rohr has said, “[M]ost Christians read the Bible in an entirely individualistic way which destroyed most of its transformative power. Jesus told us to “follow” him on this same transformative journey; instead, we just worshiped him. Many Christians have never been seriously taught about their inherent union with God and will find all kinds of heady reasons to deny it.”
The passage in John 15 where Jesus says, “I am the true vine” is full of transformative power, if only we’ll open ourselves to it. Here’s the gist of it:
- Jesus is (metaphorically) the true vine
- He became the true vine through “pruning” or releasing the things that were attached to him, that weighed down his soul, or distracted him from his connection to God and so, also, to his connection with his authentic self
- The fruit he was then able to bring forth was the fruit of authentic love, compassion, justice, etc.
- Jesus was the model showing us how to do this!
- We, too, with a little pruning and letting go, can become a true vine, renewing our connection to God and self.
- This journey requires intention and releasing – taking a look at our lives to see if we are living from our true selves or if we have some pruning to do to get there
- When we find our true selves, we automatically find the Divine within
- It is then that we, too, bear the fruit of that connection, become a source of nourishment for others, and help them to find the way to their own essence.
So, know that I understand how difficult this is. I don’t like pruning… I don’t even like the word. Thinning… that is another gardening word I don’t like. But let me tell you what happened to my peach tree when I didn’t prune it or thin it. I thought we were going to have a great bumper crop of peaches a few years ago. The tree was just full of little baby peaches. As it turned out it was too full. One morning I went out and he top branch, laden with a heavy load of peaches, had ripped right off. I felt so bad for my poor little tree. Here I thought all those peaches were really good, but had I recognized what the tree could handle and helped it to do so, it would not have broken.
This reminds me of last week’s episode of Madame Secretary. Russell Jackson, white house chief of staff, is sort of a neurotic, stressed out workaholic. He drove himself too hard, had a heart attack, then promptly went back to work. In this last episode there is a scene with his wife yelling at him and telling him he has to take care of himself, including finding a way to relax. He rejects yoga and Tai Chi and mindful breathing. Then he’s confronted with the possibility that because he runs himself ragged, he doesn’t have time for the bigger questions in life. Surprisingly, the story line then takes on a spiritual note when Russell goes to have a conversation with the Secretary’s husband, Henry McCord, who is not only former military, fighter pilot and CIA, but also a spiritual guru and ethics professor.
Henry looks at Russell and says, “You’re just a shark that doesn’t know it’s in the water just like the rest of us.”
“Huh?” replies Russell with a confused, blank look.
“Look Russell, none of us knows what our true essence is and those brief moments where we maybe get a glimpse is because we’ve somehow managed to transcend our ego. Those small moments create a space so we can ask big questions.”
“So how do I do that if I hate everything that does that?”
“Has there ever been any non-work related activity that you found completely absorbing?”
After a little thought, Russell responds, “When I was a kid I used to make model airplanes from kits.”
“What did you like about making model planes?”
“You had to be organized, precise, have all the right tools, be able to see how all the pieces fit together and if you stuck with it the plane that you saw in your mind was the plane you saw on the table.”
“Then why don’t you make them anymore?” Henry asks.
“‘Cause I’m a grown man with a job. What are you saying here? I’m going to find God in a model airplane?”
“It’s as good a place as any…”
Basically, the scene suggests that Russell’s problem is that he is disconnected from Source because he has too many other things weighing him down. He had too many peaches on his peach tree and he broke. Because he is disconnected from Source and spiritual nourishment, he is therefore also disconnected to his true self. To be healthy he needs to remain connected. To bear fruit… love, compassion, kindness, joy – the sorts of things that will save his marriage and keep his priorities straight – he has to prune a few things, or thin a few things to make space to connect.
But the voices in our heads that lead us down a frenzied path of work, or family drama, or past wounds, or whatever else our egos convince us are important enough to get sucked into, are REALLY LOUD voices.
There’s been a bit of drama in our lives lately and I spent an hour walking the dog the other morning having a little come to Jesus meeting with myself. I understand the hold our ego gets on us… but after an hour of a reality check, stepping back from the situation, seeking my center-point in the merry-go-round and singing a few songs – out loud walking through the woods – I finally felt reconnected with myself and the Divine and ready to re-enter life. But it was truly hard, deliberate work. Pruning and thinning takes that kind of effort, and frankly it is no fun, but it feels so much better once it is done. Sadly, some of those feelings and emotions grow back as fast as the weeds after a good rain, but it is better to be connected for small amounts of time rather than none at all!
Rachel Remen, in her book “My Grandfather’s Blessings,” tells the story of Jeanne, a psychologist who contents herself for a number of years in a shared practice with other therapists who gave Jeanne the smallest office, no name on the door, and not enough referrals to fill her week.
Sure, Jeanne was a bit shy and sometimes a bit hesitant with her words, and occasionally a little bit clumsy, but that only made her endearing. Her clients loved her.
Then one day Jeanne told Rachel that she was moving her office because she wanted a space that was handicapped accessible. She reluctantly went on to explain that when she was young she’d had a severe stroke and they hadn’t known whether she would live. She had kept this a secret from everyone, including her colleagues and patients because she had felt ashamed and damaged. “I wanted to put it behind me,” she said. “I thought if I could be seen as normal I would be more than I was.”
When Rachel asked her what she planned to do next, she said, “I think I will just be myself,… I will see people like myself. People who are not like others. People who have had strokes and other brain injuries. People who can never be normal again. I think I can help them be whole.”
Over the next five years she became widely known for her work, she was honored by community groups and written up in the newspaper. She became a sought after speaker and consulted with businesses and the hospital. Finally her practice was full and her name was on the door.
What happened for her? What changed? She stopped listening to the condemning ego voices of unworthiness, shame, embarrassment, and in doing this pruning, she reconnected with the energy of self and divine that revealed her own strength and light. She finally understood that covering up wounds and fears and who she was didn’t serve her or the ones she was trying to help. In this process of pruning, she was transformed, bore much fruit and became a model and teacher for others.
Jesus showed us what a life looks like that is connected to Self and God. When we follow his example, transcend our own egos and let go of the things that hold us back or hinder us, we become the true branch, we live into our authentic selves. So connected to the Energy of Life, we in turn bring forth life and light.