Meditations on tangible love during Advent 4: holy, messy, stubborn love that moves among us here on earth.

I believe God loves the world through us—through you and me. — Mother Teresa

The three grand essentials of happiness are: Something to do, someone to love, and something to hope for.― George Washington Burnap

The great struggle of … life is to take God’s name for us, to believe we are beloved and to believe that is enough. ― Rachel Held Evans

The roots of a lasting relationship are mindfulness, deep listening and loving speech, and a strong community to support you. — Thich Nhat Hanh

You’ve gotta dance like there’s nobody watching,
Love like you’ll never be hurt,
Sing like there’s nobody listening,
And live like it’s heaven on earth.
― William W. Purkey

Prayer
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
— St. Teresa of Ávila
 

Questions to consider:

  • When did you have an experience of holy, stubborn love this week?
  • When has love insisted on showing up, despite whatever should have turned it away, in your life?
  • What or who has been transformed by love, in your life?
  • When have you served as tangible love in someone else’s life?
  • What is your ‘language’ of love? How do you express love to others? Read an article on this concept.
  • In what ways are you willing to receive or accept love? When and how is it hard to allow yourself to be loved?
  • What songs make your playlist as great love songs? Are they romantic or do they describe a different kind of love?

HOLY, STUBBORN LOVE: Incarnate, Embodied, Among-Us

Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it. ― Rumi

Whenever you are confronted with an opponent. Conquer him with love. ― Mahatma Gandhi

Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. ― Martin Luther King Jr.

Every one of us is trying to find our true home. Some of us are still searching. Our true home is inside, but it’s also in our loved ones around us. When you’re in a loving relationship, you and the other person can be a true home for each other. ― Thich Nhat Hanh

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you simply, without problems or pride: I love you in this way because I do not know any other way of loving but this, in which there is no I or you, so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand, so intimate that when I fall asleep your eyes close. ― Pablo Neruda

The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference. ― Elie Wiesel

When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it–always. ― Mahatma Gandhi

I am nothing special, of this I am sure. I am a common man with common thoughts and I’ve led a common life. There are no monuments dedicated to me and my name will soon be forgotten, but I’ve loved another with all my heart and soul, and to me, this has always been enough … ― Nicholas Sparks

Not all of us can do great things.  But we can do small things with great love. — Mother Teresa

You don’t love someone because they’re perfect, you love them in spite of the fact that they’re not. ― Jodi Picoult

Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could. ― Louise Erdrich

The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater. ― J.R.R. Tolkien

Spiritual Commentary on Love

Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive. ― Dalai Lama

I do not understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are and does not leave us where it found us. ― Anne Lamott

Most of us were taught that God would love us if and when we change. In fact, God loves you so that you can change. What empowers change, what makes you desirous of change is the experience of love. It is that inherent experience of love that becomes the engine of change. ― Richard Rohr 

Understanding someone’s suffering is the best gift you can give another person. Understanding is love’s other name. If you don’t understand, you can’t love. ― Thích Nhất Hạnh

What I love about the ministry of Jesus is that he identified the poor as blessed and the rich as needy…and then he went and ministered to them both. This, I think, is the difference between charity and justice. Justice means moving beyond the dichotomy between those who need and those who supply and confronting the frightening and beautiful reality that we desperately need one another. ― Rachel Held Evans

God’s grace is a gift that is freely given to us. We don’t earn a thing when it comes to God’s love, and we only try to live in response to the gift. No one is climbing the spiritual ladder. We don’t continually improve until we are so spiritual we no longer need God. We die and are made new, but that’s different from spiritual self-improvement. We are simultaneously sinner and saint, 100 percent of both, all the time. The Bible is not God. The Bible is simply the cradle that holds Christ. Anything in the Bible that does not hold up to the Gospel of Jesus Christ simply does not have the same authority. The movement in our relationship to God is always from God to us. Always. We can’t, through our piety or goodness, move closer to God. God is always coming near to us. Most especially in the Eucharist and in the stranger.
― Nadia Bolz-Weber

When love awakens in your life, in the night of your heart, it is like the dawn breaking within you. Where before there was anonymity, now there is intimacy; where before there was fear, now there is courage; where before in your life there was awkwardness, now there is a rhythm of grace and gracefulness; where before you used to be jagged, now you are elegant and in rhythm with your self. When love awakens in your life, it is like a rebirth, a new beginning. ― John O’Donohue

Reflections on joy, Advent 3 theme

When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in You, a joy.  — Rumi 

Questions to consider about joy:

  • What is the difference between joy and other states of being, such as happiness?
  • What is essential to experience joy?
  • When has joy surprised you?

And All Be Made Well – Jan Richardson

That each ill be released from you
and each sorrow be shed from you
and each pain be made comfort for you
and each wound be made whole in you

that joy will arise in you
and strength will take hold of you
and hope will take wing for you
and all be made well.

For Equilibrium, a Blessing — John O’Donohue
Like the joy of the sea coming home to shore,
May the relief of laughter rinse through your soul.
As the wind loves to call things to dance,
May your gravity by lightened by grace.
Like the dignity of moonlight restoring the earth,
May your thoughts incline with reverence and respect.
As water takes whatever shape it is in,
So free may you be about who you become.
As silence smiles on the other side of what’s said,
May your sense of irony bring perspective.
As time remains free of all that it frames,
May your mind stay clear of all it names.
May your prayer of listening deepen enough
To hear in the depths the laughter of god.

JOY
 
I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy. – Tagore
 
To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with. – Mark Twain
 
The three factors that seem to have the greatest influence on increasing our happiness are our ability to reframe our situation more positively, our ability to experience gratitude, and our choice to be kind and generous. – Dalai Lama 
 
All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still ‘about to be’. – CS Lewis
 
When you are grateful, you are not fearful, and when you are not fearful, you are not violent. When you are grateful, you act out of a sense of enough and not out of a sense of scarcity, and you are willing to share. If you are grateful, you are enjoying the differences between people and respectful to all people. The grateful world is a world of joyful people. Grateful people are joyful people. A grateful world is a happy world. — Brother Steindl-Rast
 
 We create most of our suffering, so it should be logical that we also have the ability to create more joy. It simply depends on the attitudes, the perspectives, and the reactions we bring to situations and to our relationships with other people. When it comes to personal happiness there is a lot that we as individuals can do.  – Dalai Lama 
 
‘Without pain, how could we know joy?’ This is an old argument in the field of thinking about suffering and its stupidity and lack of sophistication could be plumbed for centuries but suffice it to say that the existence of broccoli does not, in any way, affect the taste of chocolate. – John Green
 
Part of the problem with the word ‘disabilities’ is that it immediately suggests an inability to see or hear or walk or do other things that many of us take for granted. But what of people who can’t feel? Or talk about their feelings? Or manage their feelings in constructive ways? What of people who aren’t able to form close and strong relationships? And people who cannot find fulfillment in their lives, or those who have lost hope, who live in disappointment and bitterness and find in life no joy, no love? These, it seems to me, are the real disabilities. – Fred Rogers 

I call it Joy. … But certain other experiences were… The first is itself the memory of a memory. As I stood beside a flowering currant bush on a summer day there suddenly arose in me without warning, and as if from a depth not of years but of centuries, the memory of that earlier morning at the Old House when my brother had brought his toy garden into the nursery. It is difficult or find words strong enough for the sensation which came over me; Milton’s ‘enormous bliss’ of Eden (giving the full, ancient meaning to ‘enormous’) comes somewhere near it. It was a sensation, of course, of desire; but desire for what?…Before I knew what I desired, the desire itself was gone, the whole glimpse… withdrawn, the world turned commonplace again, or only stirred by a longing for the longing that had just ceased… In a sense the central story of my life is about nothing else… The quality common to the three experiences … is that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy, which is here a technical term and must be sharply distinguished both from Happiness and Pleasure. Joy (in my sense) has indeed one characteristic, and one only, in common with them; the fact that anyone who has experienced it will want it again… I doubt whether anyone who has tasted it would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasures in the world. But then Joy is never in our power and Pleasure often is. — CS Lewis
 
I’d like to repeat the advice that I gave you before, in that I think you really should make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been too hesitant to attempt. So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun. 

… Don’t settle down and sit in one place. Move around, be nomadic, make each day a new horizon. You are still going to live a long time, … and it would be a shame if you did not take the opportunity to revolutionize your life and move into an entirely new realm of experience.

You are wrong if you think Joy emanates only or principally from human relationships. God has placed it all around us. It is in everything and anything we might experience. We just have to have the courage to turn against our habitual lifestyle and engage in unconventional living. My point is that you do not need me or anyone else around to bring this new kind of light in your life. It is simply waiting out there for you to grasp it, and all you have to do is reach for it- Jon Krakauer

Reflections on gratitude as a spiritual practice: final week of Taste & See series

Wear gratitude like a cloak and it will feed every corner of your life. ― Rumi

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. ― Melody Beattie

PRAYER

O my Great Elder, I have no words to thank you,
But with your deep wisdom I am sure that you can see
How I value your glorious gifts … when I look upon your greatness, I am confounded with awe. O Great Elder, Ruler of all things earthly and heavenly, I am … ready to act in accordance with your will.
— Excerpted from Kikuya Prayer (Kenya)

Savoring the Small Stuff: Ordinary Gratitude as Spiritual Practice  (excerpt from full article) — Carl Gregg
 … ways that we can be more intentional about noticing and responding to the parts of our lives for which we are most (and least) grateful. I. Noticing… What do you tend to notice in your daily life? And why? … we could notice at any given time — different sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touches, or emotions — but our personalities shape what stands out to us and what fades into the background … you can amplify the power of this practice — and keep yourself accountable to regularly noticing what you are grateful for — by making a commitment to share your daily gratitude (or gratitudes) with someone else, whether it is a child, a partner, or a friend.

II. The Awareness Examen

… one of the most consistently helpful ways … is a practice called the Awareness Examen … It helps you weigh the value of various aspects of your life. The examen was first detailed by Ignatius of Loyola, the 16th century founder of the Jesuits … shorter and more accessible book by Dennis, Sheila and Matthew Linn called Sleeping with Bread: Holding What Gives You Life. In short, the examen encourages you to respond to two questions at the end of each day either around the dinner table with your family or silently before you go to sleep: … you can ask “What am I most grateful for today?” and “What am I least grateful for today?” Over time, to add nuance, you can ask variations on your consolations such as, “Where did I feel most connected, most alive, most energized, or most loved?” Correspondingly, you can ask “Where did I feel most isolated, most enervated, or most taken for granted?”

… And as you notice patterns of what consistently makes you feel connected, alive, energized, and loved, the invitation is to find ways to cultivate more of that person, place, or activity in your life. … As you notice patterns of what consistently makes you feel isolated, enervated, or taken for granted, an invitation is to consider if you should find ways to have less of that person, place, or activity in your life.

III. The Spiritual Practice of Savoring

This practice of noticing and choosing what is life-affirming over what is life-negating can seem particularly simple or obvious: structure your life to do morefrequently those things that bring you consolation and do less frequently those things that bring you desolation … gently think back through my day, and name those things I’m grateful for. It’s honestly a great way to fall asleep: savoringthose things you are most grateful for. … Of course, all this talk about gratitude and savoring is easier said than done. Cultivating ordinary gratitude, noticing our consolations and desolations, and savoring them are all practices that happen over time. As with practicing the piano, practicing basketball, or practicing yoga, method and frequency matter … “Practices doesn’t necessarily make perfect, but it does make permanent.” … Practice makes permanent by ingraining habits that are difficult to break.

Application

For now, with the potential stress and joy of Thanksgiving still a few days away, I invite you to spend a short time practicing the art of savoring. Ask yourself, “What am I grateful for?” Then, pause in the silence, and listen. Allow yourself to be potentially surprised about what emerges for you as a source of gratitude. As you do so, remember the guidance from Buddha’s Brain: “Make [your consolation] last by staying with it for 5, 10, even 20 seconds [or longer].” Savor this source of gratitude with your whole self. “Focus on your emotions and body sensations…. Let the experience fill your body and be as intense as possible.”

  • What are you grateful for in your life?
  • What do you need to savor?

Other articles on gratitude:

  • Gratitude practices by Deepak Chopra (full article)“What am I grateful for?” is one of four key questions that practitioners pose to themselves prior to entering into meditation. Such practices of gratitude bring awareness to and appreciation of the positive features within and around us, helping us to embrace life as it is with all of its imperfections. Other practices to consciously cultivate a grateful life include journaling, counting blessings, savoring positive moments, and behavioral expressions of gratitude such as thank you notes, to name a few. By cultivating gratitude, we cultivate wellbeing.
  • Start a Gratitude Practice — Melissa, Lionheart Life

For Abundance

In ordinary life, we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.  – Dietrich Bonhoeffer 

One can never pay in gratitude; one can only pay ‘in kind’ somewhere else in life. — Anne Morrow Lindbergh 

How I show love has always been through food. That, for me, has been the foundation of how I express gratitude for anybody around me. — Antoni Porowski

Gratitude for the present moment and the fullness of life now is the true prosperity.  – Eckhart Tolle 

None is more impoverished than the one who has no gratitude. Gratitude is a currency that we can mint for ourselves, and spend without fear of bankruptcy. —Fred De Witt Van Amburgh

Gratitude is riches. Complaint is poverty.  – Doris Day 

Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for. — Zig Ziglar

Happiness cannot be traveled to owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude. – Denis Waitley

When you are grateful, fear disappears and abundance appears.– Anthony Robbins 

What separates privilege from entitlement is gratitude. – Brene Brown 

When I started counting my blessings, my whole life turned around. – Willie Nelson

 Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough. —Oprah Winfrey

As with all commandments, gratitude is a description of a successful mode of living. The thankful heart opens our eyes to a multitude of blessings that continually surround us. – James E. Faust 

As Connection to Holiness

Perhaps nothing helps us make the movement from our little selves to a larger world than remembering God in gratitude. Such a perspective puts God in view in all of life, not just in the moments we set aside for worship or spiritual disciplines. Not just in the moments when life seems easy. — Henri Nouwen

All human bodies are things lent by God.  With what thought are you using them? — Terrikyo. Ofudesaki 3.41 

I acknowledge my feeling and gratitude for life by praising the world and whoever made all these things. — Mary Oliver

I acknowledge with great gratitude the peace and contentment we can find for ourselves in the spiritual cocoons of our homes, our sacrament meetings, and our holy temples. — James E. Faust

Be not like those who honor their gods in prosperity and curse them in adversity.  In pleasure or pain, give thanks! — Midrash, Mekilta to Exodus 20.20

O you who believe!  Eat of the good things that We have provided for you, and be grateful to God, if it is Him that you worship. — Qur’an 2.172

‘Thank you’ is the best prayer that anyone could say. I say that one a lot. Thank you expresses extreme gratitude, humility, understanding. — Alice Walker

It is God who has made the night for you, that you may rest therein, and the day, as that which helps you to see.  Verily God is full of grace and bounty to men, yet most men give no thanks.  It is God who has made for you the earth as a resting place, and the sky as a canopy, and has given you shape–and made your shapes beautiful–and has provided for you sustenance of things pure and good; such is God, your Lord. So glory to God, the Lord of the Worlds! — Qur’an 40.61, 64

Gratitude exclaims, very properly, ‘How good of God to give me this.’  — C. S. Lewis

As Action

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. — John F. Kennedy

Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude. Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts. —Henri Frederic Amiel

You cannot do a kindness too soon because you never know how soon it will be too late. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

If future generations are to remember us more with gratitude than sorrow, we must achieve more than just the miracles of technology. We must also leave them a glimpse of the world as it was created, not just as it looked when we got through with it. —Lyndon B. Johnson

Feeling gratitude isn’t born in us – it’s something we are taught, and in turn, we teach our children. — Joyce Brothers

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it. —William Arthur Ward

As Mindfulness

Give yourself a gift of five minutes of contemplation in awe of everything you see around you. Go outside and turn your attention to the many miracles around you. This five-minute-a-day regimen of appreciation and gratitude will help you to focus your life in awe. — Wayne Dyer

For me, every hour is grace. And I feel gratitude in my heart each time I can meet someone and look at his or her smile. — Elie Wiesel

The discipline of gratitude is the explicit effort to acknowledge that all I am and have is given to me as a gift of love, a gift to be celebrated with joy. — Henri Nouwen

Gratitude is an antidote to negative emotions, a neutralizer of envy, hostility, worry, and irritation. It is savoring; it is not taking things for granted; it is present-oriented. – Sonja Lyubomirsky 

I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness – it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude. — Brene Brown

Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things. —Robert Brault

It is through gratitude for the present moment that the spiritual dimension of life opens up. — Eckhart Tolle

The roots of all goodness lie in the soil of appreciation for goodness. —Dalai Lama

Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world. — John Milton

There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. —Albert Einstein

As Practice



If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, “thank you,” that would suffice. — Meister Eckhart

Being thankful is not always experienced as a natural state of existence, we must work at it, akin to a type of strength training for the heart. – Larissa Gomez

If you concentrate on finding whatever is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul. — Rabbi Harold Kushner 

The way to develop the best that is in a person is by appreciation and encouragement. —Charles Schwab

We learned about gratitude and humility – that so many people had a hand in our success, from the teachers who inspired us to the janitors who kept our school clean… and we were taught to value everyone’s contribution and treat everyone with respect. — Michelle Obama

Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some. — Charles Dickens

Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings. — William Arthur Ward

Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful. – Buddha 

Two kinds of gratitude: The sudden kind we feel for what we take; the larger kind we feel for what we give. – Edwin Arlington Robinson 

He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has. – Epictetus

When it comes to life the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude. ― G.K. Chesterton

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 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