Meditations on figs and vines in scripture: themes from Taste & See that show up as images of peace, abundance, mercy, hope and justice.

We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond. — Gwendolyn Brooks

The result will be fruit that blesses the world and reveals us as … a community of love. Together, we are so much more powerful than any of us can be on our own. However, this “together” isn’t out there, on our own even as a community, because our life force flows from the vine with which we are one. — Kathryn Matthews

Joy and happiness, by definition, are the … fruits of wholesome actions. — Dalai Lama

Questions to consider when thinking about the use of vines and figs as images and references in scripture:

  • ‘Under vines and fig trees’ is a frequent image embodying peace and abundance, as a blessing from God, in Hebrew scriptures. (Ex: Deuteronomy 8:7-10 and 1 Maccabees 14:11-12). What landscape, site, or place symbolizes spiritual peace and wellbeing to you? Is it wild or cultivated? What would you do (or not do) there? How would it taste, smell and sound? What would it look like? How would it feel to your touch? Would you be alone or with other people? What gifts would such a site or place offer to you?
  • Vines and fig trees can be long-lived, and also imply interdependence (see John 15: 1-17). They may require patience and time and skill to cultivate (see Luke 13: 6-9). In what ways do you need to adopt a long-term, even multi-generational, and interconnected view of life and the world? In what ways do you already live out such a spiritual practice?
  • Gardening, herding, tending vineyards and orchards, fishing and farming have all been used as a Biblical metaphors for caring for self, community and world. What contemporary metaphor or story would you use to describe the role of caring for yourself, other people and/or the environment?
  • Which spiritual fruit (list from Galatians 5) — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control — do you believe you have received? Which ones do you wish you had? Which ones are you trying to grow? What isn’t on this list of spiritual fruits, that you would add?

Time and the Garden (excerpt) — Yvor Winters
The spring has darkened with activity.
The future gathers in vine, bush, and tree:
Persimmon, walnut, loquat, fig, and grape,
Degrees and kinds of color, taste, and shape.
These will advance in their due series, space
The season like a tranquil dwelling-place.
And yet excitement swells me, vein by vein:
I long to crowd the little garden, gain
Its sweetness in my hand and crush it small
And taste it in a moment, time and all!
These trees, whose slow growth measures off my years …


The Worm’s Waking  — Rumi
      This is how a human being can change:
   there’s a worm addicted to eating grape leaves.
Suddenly he wakes up, call it grace, whatever,
something wakes him, and he’s no longer a worm.
He’s the entire vineyard, and the orchard too, the fruit, the trunks,
    a growing wisdom and joy that doesn’t need to devour.


What The Figtree Said (excerpt)— Denise Levertov
… I was at hand,
a metaphor for their failure to bring forth
what is within them (as figs
were not within me). They who had walked
in His sunlight presence,
they could have ripened,
could have perceived His thirst and hunger,
His innocent appetite;
they could have offered
human fruits—compassion, comprehension—
without being asked,
without being told of need.
My absent fruit
stood for their barren hearts. He cursed
not me, not them, but
(ears that hear not, eyes that see not)
their dullness, that withholds
gifts unimagined.

Of Figs & Vines

Nothing great is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig. I answer you that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen. — Epictetus

We ought to do good to others as simply as a horse runs, or a bee makes honey, or a vine bears grapes season after season without thinking of the grapes it has borne. — Marcus Aurelius

Eat figs! If I would say a certain type of fruit was sent down to us from the heavens I would say it’s a fig … — hadith of Prophet Muhammad (May Peace Be Upon Him)

Here it is in a nutshell: Old vines yield more concentrated fruit, resulting in richer wines with more sumptuous balance … Deep roots are a big asset too … — Beppi Crosario

May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants – while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid. — George Washington

Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy. — Benjamin Franklin

I swear by the fig and the olive. — Surah At-Tīn (the fig), Qur’an

Today I begin a new life. Today I shed my old skin which hath, too long, suffered the bruises of failure ans the wounds of mediocrity. Today I am born anew and my birthplace is a vineyard where there is fruit for all. — Og Mandino

A great fig should look like it’s just about to burst its skin. When squeezed lightly it should give a little and not spring back. It must be almost unctuously sweet, soft and wet. — Yotam Ottolenghi

Probably the most revered tree in the world is Ficus religiosa, the sacred Bodhi, also known as Bo (from the Sinhalese Bo) of Burma, Ceylon and India. Siddhartha Gautama, the spiritual teacher and founder of Buddhism later known as Gautama Buddha, achieves enlightenment, or Bodhi, beneath this tree. It is said he sat under its shade for six years while he developed his philosophy of the meaning of existence. The term “Bodhi tree” is widely applied to existing trees, particularly the sacred fig growing at the Mahabodhi Temple at Bodh Gaya in the Indian State of Bihar. — W.P. Armstrong

The fig tree appears repeatedly in both the Old and New Testament of the Bible … but it has been cultivated for much longer. Sumerian stone tablets dating back to 2500 B.C. record culinary use of figs, and remains of fig trees were found during excavations of Neolithic sites from 5000 B.C. Some historians consider it the first of the domesticated crops. Figs hold a position of symbolism in many world religions, including Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and Buddhism, representing fertility, peace, and prosperity. Ancient Olympians earned figs for their athletic prowess, and Pliny the Elder extolled the fruit’s restorative powers. The prophet Mohammed reportedly identified the fig as the one fruit he would most wish to see in paradise.— Peggy Trowbridge Filippone

However, there is also a communal response. In the garden of our universe there is a fig tree we call planet Earth, Mother Earth, Home. … Now, the owner comes to us and warns us with messages such as the pending global warming reality or the gradual water shortage that Earth’s death is coming soon. The answer must now be a shift in our understanding of the place of the human within the community of all beings rather than in a dominating position. We are all one. How willing are we … to cultivate and fertilize this new way of understanding? … connecting with others to work together for “the fig tree’s one more year of life.” … means showing what it looks like to have a consciousness of the universal connectedness of all life in our everyday activities. The gardener knows there is something more that can be done in cultivating and fertilizing the tree … If that can happen, the tree will get another chance to bear fruit. Today, we are the gardeners (with) … a window of opportunity to take action for the life of this one place we call home. Individually, we may not think we can make a difference but collectively there is no question we can and we must take the actions we know are needed to transform our lifestyle from one of perhaps unconscious consumption and violent exploitation into one of reverence and nonviolence … taking action as individuals and more effectively as groups on the systemic level. — Mary Elizabeth Clark

Although commonly referred to as a fruit, the fig is actually the … scion of the tree, known as a false fruit or multiple fruit, in which the flowers and seeds are borne. It is a hollow-ended stem containing many flowers. — Jennifer, Vision & Thoughts blogger

Christian Commentary on Figs & Vines
The biblical quote “each man under his own vine and fig tree” has been used to denote peace and prosperity. — Jennifer, Thoughts & Visionsblogger

I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land. “And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid.” I still believe that We Shall overcome! — Martin Luther King

I am sure that in the story of Adam and Eve, the forbidden fruit was a fig and not an apple, pear or anything else. — Yotam Ottolenghi

Some biblical scholars think the fig, and not the apple, was the forbidden fruit picked by Eve in the Garden of Eden. — W.P. Armstrong

The type of fig leaf which each culture employs to cover its social taboos offers a twofold description of its morality. It reveals that certain unacknowledged behavior exists and it suggests the form that such behavior takes. — Freda Adler

It is with good reason that God commanded Moses that the vineyard and harvest were not to be gleaned to the last grape or grain; but something to be left for the poor. For covetousness is never to be satisfied; the more it has, the more it wants. Such insatiable ones injure themselves, and transform God’s blessings into evil. — Martin Luther

In [Luke] the landowner has waited three years for fruit that didn’t appear, and still the gardener is willing and able to care for the [fig] tree and to intercede with the landowner to save it … Mercy is still possible. — Sarah Dylan Breuer

No one – but no one – plants a fig tree in their vineyard. A fig tree would consume too much ground water, the canopy would produce too much shade, and the fig tree would attract birds that would eat the grapes. So when you hear this story about a fig tree in a vineyard, you should be alert to the possibility that this story might have to do with something other than figs and grapes. Yet there is also grace entwined in the figs and vines … the grace that Jesus talks of come when we least expect it, in places we least expect, and from people we least expect. If you keep reading this section of Luke beyond what is presented today, you will hear Jesus telling stories about how God’s grace springs forth … at unexpected times … or in unexpected places, like this fig tree growing where it does not belong, in a vineyard. Give grace a chance, Jesus says. Let it grow. You never know where you will find it. — James Richardson

So I can relate to the poor fig tree in our parable … The fig tree that for whatever reason cannot produce.  I feel like that not infrequently, maybe you do too.  Unable to produce. … Maybe we are all fig trees in a way … — Nadia Bolz-Weber


We might imagine that Jesus had many human faults. He failed most humanly, in my reckoning, when he killed the fig tree just because it didn’t bear any figs for his breakfast; that was a disgraceful, bad-tempered thing to do, and to try and make a virtue of it by saying it was a demonstration of faith only made things worse. — Michael Leunig

Our Lord never condemned the fig tree because it brought forth so much fruit that some fell to the ground and spoiled. He only cursed it when it was barren. — Edwin Louis Cole

Charism is the fig tree that blooms in every season; it is the fireworks of the fourth of July of grace and God and Jesus! … the gifts of the life of Jesus, we’re told in 1st Corinthians, remain, nevertheless, because the spirit gives them now to us as carriers of these religious traditions and also to you as bearers of them anew. — Joan Chittister

Knowing that our God does give us another chance, do we respond by producing spiritual fruit that is pleasing to God? Do we live our lives with usefulness, working towards God’s intended purpose for us, working together as one body to achieve equality for all of God’s children? — Sally Herlong

Given Luke’s consistent picture of God’s reaction … perhaps the gardener is God, the one who consistently raises a contrary voice to suggest that the ultimate answer … isn’t punishment – not even in the name of justice – but rather mercy, reconciliation, and new life. — David Lose

Looking closely, we see the many entwined branches, winding their way around one another in intricate patterns of tight curls that make it impossible to tell where one branch starts or another one ends. This is not just intricate; it’s intimate, and the vine shares with its branches the nutrients that sustain it, the life force of the whole plant … this vine is one with the branches … we find the best grapes close in to the vine, “where the nutrients are the most concentrated.” … This kind of abiding … showers us with “shalom, which speaks of wholeness, completeness, and health.” Here, close to the vine, immersed in shalom, we find not only nourishment but also hope and joy. — Kathryn Matthews


Reflections on fish, and their connection to our call to be stewards of creation & fishers of people: themes from Taste & See

… a fish is the movement of water embodied, given shape … — Doris Lessing

Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after. — Henry David Thoreau

Chance is always powerful. Let your hook always be cast;
in the pool where you least expect it, there will be fish. — Ovid

Even if you’ve never felt the charge of a rapid, or a nimble trout as it slides through your fingers, you’re still connected to the rivers and streams that flow nearby—we all are. — Americanrivers.org

Some scriptural references for this week’s fish theme:

Some questions to consider:

  • Why do meals shared with common people such as fisherfolk, tax collectors, widows, and other marginalized people create community?
  • In what ways is water important in your everyday life?
  • In what ways is environmental imbalance or injustice showing up through fish or water in your everyday life?
  • Do you know anyone who doesn’t have access to clean or drinkable water?
  • As stewards of creation, what can we do in our local communities to restore and preserve balance in our waterways?

A Thirsty Fish (excerpt) — Rumi

I don’t get tired of you. Don’t grow weary
of being compassionate toward me!

All this thirst equipment
must surely be tired of me,
the waterjar, the water carrier.

I have a thirsty fish in me
that can never find enough
of what it’s thirsty for!

Show me the way to the ocean!
Break these half-measures,
these small containers.

All this fantasy and grief.

Let my house be drowned in the wave
that rose last night in the courtyard
hidden in the center of my chest …


Matins — John O’Donohue
1
Somewhere, out at the edges, the night
Is turning and the waves of darkness
Begin to brighten the shore of dawn.

The heavy dark falls back to earth
And the freed air goes wild with light,
The heart fills with fresh, bright breath
And thoughts stir to give birth to colour.

2
I arise today
In the name of Silence, Womb of the Word,
In the name of Stillness, Home of Belonging,
In the name of the Solitude, of the Soul and the Earth.

I arise today
Blessed by all things, Wings of breath,
Delight of eyes, Wonder of whisper,
Intimacy of touch, Eternity of soul,
Urgency of thought, Miracle of health,
Embrace of God.

May I live this day Compassionate of heart,
Clear in word, Gracious in awareness,
Courageous in thought, Generous in love.


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Of Fishermen

The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore. — Vincent Van Gogh

Christianity began as a religion of the poor and dispossessed – farmers, fishermen, Bedouin shepherds. There’s a great lure to that kind of simplicity and rigor – the discipline, the call to action. — Camille Paglia

If I were not African, I wonder whether it would be clear to me that Africa is a place where the people do not need limp gifts of fish but sturdy fishing rods and fair access to the pond. I wonder whether I would realize that while African nations have a failure of leadership, they also have dynamic people with agency and voices. — Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. — Attributed to Maimonides

Fishermen own the fish they catch, but they do not own the ocean. — Etienne Schneider

God’s desire for the wholeness and healing of all creation was inaugurated in a world changing way in the life of Jesus and it continues through you … Your hands are what God has to work with here. Hands that, no matter what your story is, have as much to receive as they have to give. Just by merit of being here, you’ve been conscripted into this beautiful, redemptive story of God’s love for all of humanity along with smelly fishermen, demoniacs and sick old ladies and the rest of Jesus dream team. — Nadia Biolz-Weber

Chefs are at the end of a long chain of individuals who work hard to feed people. Farmers, beekeepers, bakers, scientists, fishermen, grocers, we are all part of that chain, all food people, all dedicated to feeding the world. — Jose Andres

I love to watch the movement of light on water, and I love to play in rivers and lakes, swimming or canoeing. I am fascinated by people who work with water – fishermen, boatmen – and by a way of life that is dominated by water. — Berlie Doherty

What did Christ really do? He hung out with hard-drinking fishermen. — Iggy Pop

There are very few fishermen left today. — Paul Watson

In the past, when I shot films about fishermen and hunters, I always had to admire their ability to perceive time in its entirety. The present was always temporary. — Lennart Meri

Culturally, I have always been part of the proletariat. I lived side by side with the sons of glassblowers, fishermen and smugglers. The stories they told were shaper satires about the hypocrisy of authority and the middle classes, the two-facedness of teachers and lawyers and politicians. I was born politicized. — Dario Fo

Environmentalists aren’t nearly sensitive enough to the fact that they are messing around with struggling people and their livelihoods. They forget that the fishermen are the people with the most immediate vested interest in having a healthy sea. — Mark Kurlansky

Fish as Environmental Messengers

What is a fish without a river? What is a bird without a tree to nest in? What is an Endangered Species Act without any enforcement mechanism to ensure their habitat is protected? It is nothing. — Jay Inslee

Every fish in the ocean is in danger. — Paul Watson

People still do not understand that a live fish is more valuable than a dead one, and that destructive fishing techniques are taking a wrecking ball to biodiversity. — Sylvia Earle

There’s a great metaphor that one of my doctors uses: If a fish is swimming in a dirty tank and it gets sick, do you take it to the vet and amputate the fin? No, you clean the water. So, I cleaned up my system. — Kris Carr

I can stand in a crystal stream without another human around me and cast all day long, and if I never catch a single fish, I can come home and still feel like I had a wonderful time. It’s the being there that’s important. — Norman Schwarzkopf

Sustainable fishing results in a tremendous recovery of fish stocks and their habitats. Furthermore, healthy fish stocks and a healthy ocean environment are crucial for the livelihoods of coastal communities. Millions depend on fisheries as a source of food and income. Empty seas cause both empty stomachs and empty pockets. Buying sustainable seafood thus helps fish, the environment and people who depend on it. — Fish Forward

What is a fish without a river? What is a bird without a tree to nest in? What is an Endangered Species Act without any enforcement mechanism to ensure their habitat is protected? It is nothing. — Jay Inslee

Up to 80 percent of the fish that we catch spend at least part of their lives in estuaries. — Jim Gerlach

The ocean is the lifeblood of our world. If we were to lose our fish that we appreciate so much by overfishing; or if we were to lose some of our favorite beaches to overbuilding and pollution, then how would we feel? It’s become a case of not knowing what you’ve got until it’s gone. — Aaron Peirsol

Ten percent of the big fish still remain. There are still some blue whales. There are still some krill in Antarctica. There are a few oysters in Chesapeake Bay. Half the coral reefs are still in pretty good shape, a jeweled belt around the middle of the planet. There’s still time, but not a lot, to turn things around. — Sylvia Earle

Our fish, our recreation, our irrigation and all our uses of the … River are threatened if the drought continues and the Corps of Engineers decisions aren’t changed. — Mike Rounds

We are being choked to death by the amount of plastic that we throw away. It’s killing our oceans. It’s entering into our bodies in the fish we eat. — Kevin Bacon

Light doesn’t penetrate beneath the surface of the water, so ocean creatures like whales and dolphins and even 800 species of fish communicate by sound. And a North Atlantic right whale can transmit across hundreds of miles. — Rose George
 

The sun is the most important thing in everybody’s life, whether you’re a plant, an animal or a fish, and we take it for granted. — Danny Boyle

Cheap fish has usually been caught in careless ways. — Mark Kurlansky

One fifth of human kind depend on fish to live. Today now 70 percent of the fish stock are over-exploited. According to FAO if we don’t change our system of fishing the main sea resources will be gone in 2050. We don’t want to believe what we know. — Yann Arthus-Bertrand
 

You know how fighting fish do it? They blow bubbles and in each one of those bubbles is an egg and they float the egg up to the surface. They keep this whole heavy nest of eggs floating, and they’re constantly repairing it. It’s as if they live in both elements. — Audre Lorde

Fish as Sustenance


Eating together is the most intimate form of kinship. By scripting a work where we share the same kind of food with fish, I’m scripting our interrelationship with them. — Natalie Jeremijenko

Never be a food snob. Learn from everyone you meet – the fish guy at your market, the lady at the local diner, farmers, cheese makers. Ask questions, try everything and eat up! — Rachael Ray

I may be only a fish and chip shop lady, but some of these economists need to get their heads out of the textbooks and get a job in the real world. I would not even let one of them handle my grocery shopping. — Pauline Hanson

Saturday night is your big night. Everybody used to fry up fish and have one hell of a time. Find me playing till sunrise for 50 cents and a sandwich. And be glad of it. And they really liked the low-down blues. — Muddy Waters

80 percent of our global fish stocks are fully exploited, overly exploited or have collapsed. Two billion people rely on the oceans for their primary source of protein. — Barton Seaver

To be able to serve and to eat a whole fish, especially a trout, is part of civilized dining. — Julia Child

An Asian way of eating and living may help prevent and even reverse the progression of coronary heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, prostate cancer and breast cancer. Incorporate more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, soy products and fish in your diet. Eat at home more with your family and friends. — Dean Ornish

I don’t eat fish because there is no such thing as sustainable fishing in the world right now. — Paul Watson

Seventy percent of the fish we eat is black market, fished in violation of international laws. Our ignorance makes us unwilling partners in crime. Rogue economics is turning the global market into our worst nightmare. — Loretta Napoleoni

There is no need for an end to fish, or to fishing for that matter. But there is an urgent need for governments to free themselves from the fishing-industrial complex … — Daniel Pauly

For me, food is all about balance. If you eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and an appropriate amount of poultry, fish, and red meat that are sourced from good places, you’re doing well. — Curtis Stone

Fishing in sustainable ways means fewer fish, higher quality, better price at the market. That is a formula that is good for the environment and the fisherman but bad for the consumer. — Mark Kurlansky

Whenever possible, buy a fish whole. — Nobu Matsuhisa

I respected it. I submerged myself into it. So on a lot of days off I would go and fish with the fishermen and the families that ran the boats. I would go work the fields with farmers. I would go and talk with farmers about growing particular products for me. — Emeril Lagasse

Comprehensive climate legislation must be passed so that we can ensure a world where this and future generations can experience the bliss of breathing clean crisp air, while fishing in the Adirondacks… and being able to eat the fish afterwards. — Gloria Reuben

Fish as Teachers & Fishing as Spiritual Practice


No human being, however great, or powerful, was ever so free as a fish. — John Ruskin

Memory is a net: one finds it full of fish when he takes it from the brook, but a dozen miles of water have run through it without sticking. — Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

Smell was our first sense. It is even possible that being able to smell was the stimulus that took a primitive fish and turned a small lump of olfactory tissue on its nerve cord into a brain. We think because we smelled. — Lyall Watson

My grandfather, Jesse Bowman, was of Abenaki Indian descent. He could barely read and write, but I remember him as one of the kindest people I ever knew. I followed him everywhere. He showed me how to walk quietly in the woods and how to fish. — Joseph Bruchac

Do not despise the fish because they are absolutely unable to speak or to reason, but fear lest you may be even more unreasonable than they by resisting the command of the Creator. Listen to the fish, who through their actions all but utter this word: ‘We set out on this long journey for the perpetuation of our species.’ — Saint Basil

When I fish, I stop thinking about anything else. But truth be told, if you want to declare victories, I can tell you the fish have won a lot more than I have. It’s interesting that something with a brain the size of a fish’s can outsmart us humans, who think we are el supremo. — Norman Schwarzkopf

Fish die belly upward, and rise to the surface. Its their way of falling. — Andre Gide

Don’t bottom fish. — Peter Lynch

Do not tell fish stories where the people know you; but particularly, don’t tell them where they know the fish. — Mark Twain

What law, what reason can deny that gift so sweet, so natural that God has given a stream, a fish, a beast, a bird? — Pedro Calderon de la Barca
 

A fishnet is made up of a lot more holes than strings, but you can’t therefore argue that the net doesn’t exist. Just ask the fish. — Jeffrey Kluger

I dreamed: I am the fish whose flesh is eaten, and because I am fat, it is good. — Philip K. Dick

The day-to-day microaggressions that we all face, yeah, you have to let some stuff slide, or you go, ‘I gotta keep moving; there’s bigger fish to fry.’ It’s something that I still deal with. But I’ve tried to have the audacity of equality and to follow my heart in those moments where I feel like something is wrong. — Hasan Minhaj

The one thing that a fish can never find is water; and the one thing that man can never find is God. — Eric Butterworth

I think humans have to learn a new way of dwelling on this earth. A way of living with their companions: animals, plants and fish. — John Burnside

When you see a fish you don’t think of its scales, do you? You think of its speed, its floating, flashing body seen through the water… If I made fins and eyes and scales, I would arrest its movement, give a pattern or shape of reality. I want just the flash of its spirit. — Constantin Brancusi

When you cook, you take a life. When you eat fish, or meat, you take a life. And you must be very respectful of the ingredients and that is very important. — Joel Robuchon

We may know, for example, that something (a craving, or a grudge) is an obstacle for our happiness, that it brings us anxiety and fear. We know this thing is not worth the sleep we’re losing over it. But still we go on spending our time and energy obsessing about it. We’re like a fish who has been caught once before and knows there’s a hook inside the bait; if the fish makes use of that insight, he won’t bite, because he knows he’ll get caught by the hook. Often, we just bite onto our craving or grudge, and let the hook take us. We get caught and attached to these situations that are not worthy of our concern. If mindfulness and concentration are there, then insight will be there and we can make use of it to swim away, free. — Thich Nhat Hanh

Reflections on extended family: inspired by UKAMA Sunday and the Shona word for interconnectedness.

The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life. – Richard Bach

Family isn’t always blood. It’s the people in your life who want you in theirs; the ones who accept you for who you are. The ones that would do anything to see you smile and who love you no matter what. — anonymous

Shona concept of Ukama (Zimbabwe). This is the name of the partnership between faith communities in NH and Zimbabwe. Jackson Community Church is partnered with the Chikanga Church in the city of Mutare, Zimbabwe. Excerpt “… life is an interconnected whole, the ultimate wellbeing of the individual can hardly be disentangled from the well-being of others. It is through kinship or relatedness that the individual’s actions affect others positively or negatively at present as well as in the future.”

Questions to consider:

  • What is your image of God? Often our primal understanding of love and power is shaped by our earliest primary family relationships. How is your understanding of God like the people of your family of origin or adoption?
  • Who are the people you have ‘chosen’ as your extended family? What bonds tie you together?

Poem — Mary Oliver 
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family: Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one. – Jane Howard

You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them. – Desmond Tutu

To us, family means putting your arms around each other and being there. – Barbara Bush

Families are the compass that guides us. They are the inspiration to reach great heights, and our comfort when we occasionally falter. – Brad Henry


The family – that dear octopus from whose tentacles we never quite escape, nor, in our inmost hearts, ever quite wish to. – Dodie Smith

When you grow up in an extended family, or in a stable neighborhood with two or three generations of families who live there, you feel seen. Not just the good things you’ve done, the stuff you put on your resume. You know they’ve seen you in your dark times, when you’ve messed up – but they’re still there. — Dean Ornish

This is my family. I found it all on my own. It’s little, and broken, but still good. Yeah. Still good. – Stitch (Disney character)

Blended families: woven together by choice, strengthened together by love, tested by everything, and each uniquely ours. — anonymous

The creation of a more peaceful and happier society has to begin from the level of the individual, and from there it can expand to one’s family, to one’s neighborhood, to one’s community and so on. — Dalai Lama

Obviously, you would give your life for your children, or give them the last biscuit on the plate. But to me, the trick in life is to take that sense of generosity between kin, make it apply to the extended family and to your neighbour, your village and beyond. — Tom Stoppard

Through my love for you, I want to express my love for the whole cosmos, the whole of humanity, and all beings. By living with you, I want to learn to love everyone and all species. If I succeed in loving you, I will be able to love everyone and all species on Earth… This is the real message of love. ― Thich Nhat Hanh

A child is fortunate who feels witnessed as a person, outside relationships with parents, by another adult. ― Louise Erdrich

Global health issues remind us – perhaps more than any other issue – that we are all children of the same extended family. — Kathleen Sebelius

You inherited a piece of everyone in your family. Insult them, insult yourself … Family makes you who you are and aren’t. – Marcelina Hardy

The great gift of family life is to be intimately acquainted with people you might never even introduce yourself to, had life not done it for you. – Kendall Hailey

He that raises a large family stands a broader mark for sorrow; but then he stands a broader mark for pleasure too. – Benjamin Franklin

A family is a place where principles are hammered and honed on the anvil of everyday living.  – Charles Swindon

To maintain a joyful family requires much from both the parents and the children. Each member of the family has to become, in a special way, the servant of the others.  – Pope John Paul II

We must take care of our families wherever we find them. – Elizabeth Gilbert

When everything goes to hell, the people who stand by you without flinching — they are your family. – Jim Butcher

It didn’t matter how big our house was; it mattered that there was love in it. – Peter Buffett

Holy Thoughts on Families Formed by Love and Choice

God resorts to working through us for others and upon us through others. Those are some weirdly restorative, disconcerting shenanigans to be caught up in: God forcing God’s people to see themselves as God sees them, to do stuff they know they are incapable of doing, so that God might make use of them, and make them to be both humble recipients and generous givers of grace, so that they may be part of God’s big project on earth, so that they themselves might find unexpected joy through surprising situations. — Nadia Bolz-Weber

When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don’t blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun. You never blame the lettuce. Yet if we have problems with our friends or family, we blame the other person. But if we know how to take care of them, they will grow well, like the lettuce. Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and argument. That is my experience. No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you understand, and you show that you understand, you can love, and the situation will change. ― Thich Nhat Hanh

Reflections on injustice & healing: themes from Jeremiah

Balm in Gilead — Grace Schulman
“Is there no balm in Gilead?”
So cries dour Jeremiah in granite tones.
“There is a balm in Gilead,”
replies a Negro spiritual. The baritone  

who chants it, leaning forward on the platform,
looks up, not knowing his voice is a rainstorm
that rinses air to reveal earth’s surprises.
Today, the summer gone, four monarch butterflies,  

their breed’s survivors, sucked a flower’s last blooms,
opened their wings, orange-and-black stained glass,
and printed on the sky in zigzag lines,
watch bright things rise:

winter moons, the white undersides
of a … condor, once thought doomed,
now flapping wide like the first bird
from ashes.


Questions to consider, based on text from Jeremiah:

  • What are some of the injustices you notice in the world right now?
  • What voices resist or critique those injustices? Who are the prophets of this age?
  • What actions or words are helping reinforce the injustices you have noticed?
  • Do people from within your community, or groups with whom you identify, speak up or take action about the injustices you are noticing?
  • What are some signs of healing or hope that you see for those injustices … what “balm for Gilead” do you witness?
  • What is a daily action or choice you can make, to become more aware or to affect change, about an injustice that is of particular concern to you?

Injustices Named

Our nation is reeling from shockwaves of violence, intolerance, anger, suspicion, and fear. At this moment it feels like our whole country is a powder keg, about to ignite, fueled by long legacies of racism, xenophobia, heterosexism, religious intolerance. — Anathea Portier-Young

… we must understand the lament’s power. Too often as Christians, we edit our prayers to God. We speak frankly to friends, advisors, and paid professionals, but we don’t speak frankly to God. Jeremiah holds nothing back from God and models a prayer life of both praise and lament. … These verses continue to resonate with both Christians and Jews as they confront the troubles of today’s world. What would Jeremiah say if he heard that more soldiers died from their own hand than in combat last year in Afghanistan? What should we say? How would Jeremiah react if he heard that 22 veterans a day commit suicide? Jeremiah 8:18-9:1 still tries to shake us from our complacency. — Garrett Galvin

This fact does not mean that the prophet should cease telling the truth as she sees it from God. But all truth telling is contexted by a careful listening to the pain of those very people…. We modern day would-be prophets would do well to listen carefully to the cries of our people. We may demand from them God’s justice, but in a highly complex and competitive world, the doing of justice may not be so clear-cut. When the people of our flock feel the pressing demands of a capitalist world to work hard and to achieve success; when the women are urged to “have it all,” to achieve great success in business and equal success as spouse and mother, while the men are to “be men” and to be relational and giving, yet powerful and winners, the cries of the people may ring loud in the land. — John Holbert

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. — Desmond Tutu

Non-violence doesn’t mean we have to passively accept injustice. We have to fight for our rights. We have to oppose injustice, because not to do so would be a form of violence. Gandhi-ji fervently promoted non-violence, but that didn’t mean he was complacently accepting of the status quo; he resisted, but he did so without doing harm. — Dalai Lama

Hope & Healing

To be contented human beings we need trust and friendship, which tends to develop much better once we realise that all beings have a right to happiness, just as we do. Taking others’ interests into account not only helps them, it also helps us. Warm-heartedness and concern for others are a part of human nature and are at the core of positive human values — Dalai Lama

The painful truth is that we are not the people we envision ourselves to be—not always. We do not live up to the convictions we profess to be the basis for our lives—not always. We may be in tune to the “justice of the Lord” in some areas of our lives, but I guarantee that there are others where we are not, and we are clueless about that fact. Jeremiah calls us to ask not “Where is God?” but “What have I done?”—to pull back the veil of our appearance of godliness so that we can find the way to real healing. — Alan Brehm

We stuffed scary feelings down, and they made us insane. I think it is pretty universal, all this repression leading to violence and fundamentalism and self-loathing and addiction. All I know is that after 10 years of being sober, with huge support to express my pain and anger and shadow, the grief and tears didn’t wash me away. They gave me my life back! They cleansed me, baptized me, hydrated the earth at my feet. They brought me home, to me, to the truth of me. — Anne Lamott

At the same time Jeremiah reminds me that life is not about sitting around waiting for my medicine.  Band aids and half –measures will not bring the cure we need.  Jesus heals me for a reason.  I’m called to love in return with all my heart, soul and mind, to extend love to my neighbor in gratitude … I know of no other way, no other healing balm, that helps me meet the daily challenges. So I listen to the spiritual and will try to sing it every day this week: Sometimes I feel discouraged and think my work’s in vain; but then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again. — Lillian Daniel

Reflections on lost and found: parables from Luke 15 (lost sheep & coin)

When my soul was in the lost-and-found
You came along to claim it.
 — Carole King

Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.
Henry David Thoreau

If light is in your heart, you will find your way home. — Rumi

Questions prompted by Luke 15: 1-11 (parables of lost sheep and coin)

  • What is precious that you have lost?
  • What has been lost, then found or reclaimed, in your life?
  • Who or what serves as a guide in your life?
  • To what flock do you belong?
  • If you found what was most precious and significant, after it was missing, with whom would you choose to celebrate? And how?

Lost & Found

We tiptoed the tops of beaver dams, hopped hummocks, went wading, looked at spring flowers, tried to catcha snake, got lost and found. How fine it was to move at a meandery, child’s pace. — David Sobel

Live your daily life in a way that you never lose yourself. When you are carried away with your worries, fears, cravings, anger, and desire, you run away from yourself and you lose yourself. The practice is always to go back to oneself. — Thich Nhat Hanh

People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness. Just because they’re not on your road doesn’t mean they’ve gotten lost. — Dalai Lama

The wind passing over his unscarred face was cold from the snow of the surrounding mountains … and relished life as if … tasting it for the first time. The longing it brought, and the desire. All the bitterness, all the sweetness, even if it was only for a while, never for more than a while, everything gained and lost, lost and found again. — Cornelia Funke

In these two parables that he offers at the beginning of Luke 15—the parables of the search for the lost sheep and the woman’s finding of her lost coin—Jesus provides vivid images that depict God’s penchant for searching out what is lost in order to reclaim it and restore it to wholeness … These parables remind us that redemption is always God’s work, God doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves. The most we can do is turn ourselves Godward—and the act of turning lies at the Greek root of the word for repentance, metanoia—and pray that in our turning, we will—like a sheep, like a coin—be unlost. Be unhidden. Be found. These parables call us also to remember that redemption does not, cannot, happen in isolation. Redemption restores us to the community and continually challenges us to work toward the flourishing of those whose lives are bound together with ours. Yet while God continually pulls us toward community, redemption is not about conformity: being restored to the circle does not mean thinking or acting or looking like everyone else, and making all our pieces look the same. Repentance and redemption invite us instead to discern what we have to offer, what distinctive gifts God has placed within us that no one else can bring, the pieces that, when brought together with the richness of the pieces that others offer, transform the brokenness of the world into a pattern of beauty. And when this happens, as Jesus illuminates in these parables—when what is broken and lost is restored and redeemed—it is worth a celebration. Is not complete, in fact, until some rejoicing gets under way. — Jan Richardson


Lost Coins

You already have the gold coins beneath you, of presence, creativity, intimacy, time for wonder, and nature, and life. Oh, yeah, you say? And where would those rascally coins be? … It is our true wealth, this moment, this hour, this day. — Anne Lamott

Jesus likens God to the woman searching for a precious coin. The woman finds the lost coin and rejoices. Like this woman, God longs for us and searches for us when we are lost and in pain. When we are found by God, we gain new insight into the meaning of God’s love. — Laura Hammel

Sheep & Shepherd   The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as his liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty. Plainly, the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of liberty. — Abraham Lincoln
The human being is not the lord of beings, but the shepherd of Being. — Martin Heidegger
  The shepherd always tries to persuade the sheep that their interests and his own are the same. — Stendhal

There was a shepherd the other day up at Findon Fair who had come from the east by Lewes with sheep, and who had in his eyes that reminiscence of horizons which makes the eyes of shepherds and of mountaineers different from the eyes of other men.
― Hilaire Belloc

Christ’s flock is made up of sheep that not only listen to their shepherd, but are also able to recognize his voice, to follow him, faithfully and with full awareness, on the pastures of eternal life. — Pope John XXIII

God is the good shepherd who goes looking for the lost sheep. God is the woman who lights a lamp, sweeps the house, and searches everywhere for her lost coin until she has found it. God is not the patriarch who stays home, doesn’t move, and expects his children to come to him, apologize for their sinful behavior, beg for his forgiveness, and promise to do better. God is the father who watches and waits for his children, runs out to meet them, embraces them, pleads with them, and begs and urges them to come home. It might sound strange, but God wants to find us as much, if not more, than we want to find God. — Henri Nouwen

Because no amount of this rebellion and smallness and bigness and self-sorrow can ever change our belongingness to our shepherd. None of it. And none of the ways we seek belongingness to lesser shepherds and wolves can ever change our true belongingness to the Good Shepherd. Because in reality, when we wander off and try and get our needs met through all the wrong ways and allow others to be our shepherd and when we are dumb and let the wolves in and when we do all the other things sheep just do, well, it doesn’t mean we are not worthy to have a good shepherd, it just makes it all that much better news that we have a good shepherd. — Nadia Bolz-Weber