Tuesday, April 30, 2013

We are a forest kingdom

(title credit to Scott Erickson)
In an effort to write new content here on a regular basis and save some writing time for other publications, I'm attempting a weekly "stream of consciousness" post.  (after the art) 
This week I've contributed an essay to the Backward Movement issue of  catapult* magazine: 16 thoughts for 16 stanzas: Holding up Wendell Berry's mad farmer manifesto to the paradigm of progress.  It's a great issue and I'm glad to be a part of it.
We are a forest kingdom
Scott Erickson

Jesus is the vine, we are the branches. We used to sing this truth in a camp song with silly hand motions -- the refrain being "His banner over me is love".  Such a beautiful truth in such a silly song.  In that context we should have changed the lyric "His banner over US is love".  

There is a time and place to relish our personal, particular rescue from death to life.  The moment we really got it:  Jesus loves me.  There are times and events that are so intimate, where we know the whisper of God in only our own ear, the song of Christ over only our own suffering bodies.  Moments too precious to even speak about.

But I don't think John 15 speaks to that reality, rather Jesus as the vine and WE are the intertwined, interconnected, twisting, turning, fruit-bearing branches.  We exist as a whole.  When we are healthy we give health to the whole plant.  When we are sick we threaten all with disease. 
Catherine of Siena wrote her masterpiece The Dialogue in the fourteenth century in response to a profound mystical conversation she experienced with God.  In one segment God speaks to her through the image of the vineyard we find throughout the New Testament (and this week in John 15):
"You are the workers I have hired for the vineyard of holy Church. When I gave you the light of holy baptism I sent you by my grace to work in the universal body of Christianity... 
Each of you has your own vineyard, your soul, in which you free will is the appointed worker during this life... 
Indeed I am the gardener, for all that exists comes from me. With power and strength beyond imagining I govern the whole world: Not a thing is made or kept in order without me. I am the gardener, then, who planted the vine of my only-begotten Son in the earth of your humanity so that you, the branches, could be joined to the vine and bear fruit. ... 
You, then, are my workers. You have come from me, the supreme eternal gardener, and I have engrafted you onto the vine by making myself one with you. 
Keep in mind that each of you have your own vineyard. But every one is joined to your neighbors' vineyards without any dividing lines. They are so joined together, in fact, that you cannot do good or evil for yourself without doing the same for your neighbors. 
All of you together make up one common vineyard, the whole Christian assembly, and you are all united in the vineyard of the mystic body of holy Church from which you draw your life. In this vineyard is planted the vine, which is my only-begotten Son, into whom you  must be engrafted."
His banner over us is love.

In truth, then, when I practice the presence of Christ in quiet, hope-filled abiding I gather nourishment for all of us.  When I submit my wayward, idol-worshipping parts to the pruning Hand of God,  I repent for all of us.  

Scott Erickson's painting We Are a Forest Kingdom calls me back -- often -- to this truth.  No branch exists on its own strength.  No true vine would be satisfied sustaining only one branch.  We exist in the reality of Christ's Church from all time and places.  Christ lived on this earth to do the will of His Father and ever since then is seated at God's right hand praying for us.  

When we trust the good care of a good Father and the good life of His Son Jesus and the good love poured out in us by his Spirit, we can exist -- flourish even -- as one part of a common vineyard.  Twisting and turning our lives together to bear fruit for our sure source of life, the only-begotten Son of the Father.

Keeping the tangle of our interconnectedness in mind, another image has captured my imagination:

 May we, the forest kingdom of Jesus, hold on dearly to the true Vine and lose sight of all our imaginary dividing lines.  May we provoke flourishing in every nook and cranny of this dried-up earth.  May we never forget His banner over us is love.

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