In my yard, there grows a grapevine. I can remember that the first year I lived here, I was excited for the growth that would appear. The stark, naked vine is a slow-growing, taking-its-own-sweet-time, kind of plant. One day, I lifted the now lush green leaves, seeking fruit, and after a bit of exploration I found a small, perfectly shaped grape cluster.
Still very small, the whole thing about the size of my palm…but, what I saw was not at all what I expected! I saw a small cluster, it is true, but instead of hanging downward as we all have seen grape clusters do, with the single grape at the bottom, it was standing upright on the vine, like a Christmas tree – with the single grape at the top! This took me by surprise – wait! It’s not supposed to be that way!
We have had to shake our heads a lot this past year about what is and isn’t supposed to be. We have learned, sometimes the hard way, that life is not exactly predictable and the more we cling to what ‘should be’ the harder ‘what is’ becomes.
We have had to deal with new levels of fatigue, during this pandemic, and therefore we have moved a lot of our daily business and busyness into routine.
Well, there is nothing routine about what happens in the first reading this weekend. We see the struggle that the early Christian community has in believing that Saul might be more of a companion than a threat. Can he be believed? Can Barnabas’ words be taken to heart? How do they/we release our grip on what we’ve seen and heard – which may not be the whole truth – and the well-established picture that helped us make sense of what we understood? “Wait! He’s not supposed to be one of us!”
[The reading from first John seems to concur. “…let us reassure our hearts before God…for God is greater than our hearts…even if our hearts condemn us, we have confidence in God.” We ponder that if we cling to tightly to what we think we know…sometimes even our hearts betray us. I once had a wise spiritual director tell me that the best way to live life is to live with a loose grasp… a grasp which acknowledges the teamwork of the Divine…that it really isn’t all up to me!]
In the Gospel, John illustrates how the Divine vine grower works with the vine and the trellis we have assembled over our lifetime. Have you ever engaged in any bush, tree, or rose pruning? Then you know what lies ahead for the Vine grower. When I prune…I often do so reluctantly, not all that sure that where I place the blade will actually bear the fruit or bring to blossom the glorious rose, as I hope it will! No such fear with God. Seeing the BIG picture, God knows just what to leave and what to remove. The Gospel tells us that God removes BOTH what bears fruit and what does not. “Wait! It’s not supposed to be that way!”
Both what bears fruit and what does not…often, left to my own wisdom, I might point to what feels fruitful to me, showy, productive…when in fact, that is what will be pruned away… If I cling too tightly to what I know, to what I prefer, will I miss out on what else God wants to reveal to me? What else will come to life?
This partnership, for it is indeed a partnership, can only work if there is trust.
It is easier to trust what we do not know or how exactly change will occur when what is proposed is LOGICAL!
Yet, when we are asked to leap with faith into the void or release the death grip to something we just aren’t sure will hold us – trust can be a tough proposition. The Vine grower prunes what is good as well as what no longer bears fruit. Either way, we are going to get cut! Trust can assuage our fear of what we will be called to release/surrender…and if we cannot trust our hearts, we can trust the heart of God.
Allowing God a freehand to respond to the longing which exists in our deepest heart, will certainly result in an abundance we never knew possible.
Growth and healing and wholeness beyond predictability, beyond expectation…beyond our ideas of “Wait!” of what’s supposed to be, seem to be the deeper call of the readings for our weekend.
Monique grew up in southern California as a first generation American whose parents immigrated from the Netherlands. Raised in a bilingual household, and a learner at heart, observation, language, and curiosity have become her favorite tools for discovery and are often expressed through her artwork. Aiming to join the Peace Corps after high school, she instead responded to a call to the religious life and ministered as a member of a catechetical community for almost 20 years. Surprising herself, Monique fell in love with teaching; her ministry has taken many forms: from dirt lot catechesis in the barrios of east Los Angeles to the beach cities of Orange Country, as well as year-round ministry at the community’s retreat camp for teens and families in the pine covered mountains of Big Bear, California. Yet perhaps her favorite of all, Reno Nevada, where she has continued to make her home since departing religious life.
Monique has served in the Diocese of Reno as Director of Faith Formation for almost 20 years, accompanies seekers as a spiritual director, and contributes monthly to the Faith Forum column, where leaders of multiple faith traditions come together over a given topic, in the Reno Gazette Journal. She easily admits that she still relishes both the challenges and the joys of following the Spirit.
When trying to achieve balance, Monique loves to go for long walks, often around Lake Tahoe, throwing a book - or a sketchpad - in her backpack, finding deep interior renewal and solitude in creation out of doors.
She received her M.A. in Religious Education at Fordham University in New York and continues to be passionate about serving the People of God with her life. She has served in ministry to the church for over 40 years.
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