In the past week--a mere seven days, I've had excruciating migraines, visited the emergency room, stopped a medication cold turkey that is recommended to be tapered off, started another--an anti-psychotic, if you can believe that, even though I'm not psychotic, only depressed (made worse because of the first failed medication) and in pain. I did a version of the Thorazine shuffle around my house and to the tea shop, until the headaches started again, and I was glad God gave me an excuse to get off it. But my brain is rattled from the abuse it's taken, and I'm just plain tired, body and soul. All I wanted was to feel better. So I can work better.
I've finally started going to daily Mass, even though Christ asked me to about two years ago. There's a heckuva difference between intention and obedience, I've learned. Again. All of hell will conspire against your godly decision. Migraine kept me in bed in the dark, literally and figuratively, well past the time the faithful at St. Paul's left in peace. But I still had the option of going to my home parish, St. Peter Claver, for our Wednesday evening Mass. But there was all this drama at the house that erupted. When? When I started to get ready to go to church, of course. I was tempted to stay home to make sure matters didn't get worse, until I realized I couldn't do jack in my state anyway, including make a compelling argument. So I left, feeling utterly defeated. And then I saw a neighbor, a dear who has cancer and is fighting for her life. I stopped to talk to her. I figure if she's on borrowed time and she wanted to have a conversation to me, I could love and honor her enough to give it. I'm learning to stop and listen. We never know how long we'll have our lovies with us, or how long we'll be with them.
Once I arrived at the church I was embarrassed to have missed the whole thing. Deacon James and Christine consoled my by telling me the priest blazed through the celebration and it ended sooner than anyone expected. Then kind Deacon James asked me if I'd like to have communion. Let's just say he didn't have to ask me twice.
Before he served me the body of Christ, he read me the gospel passage for the day and for the first time that I can recall--then again, I can't recall much right now--the Word, through the gospel reading at church, came to me as if Jesus was speaking directly to me. I mean, ridiculously directly, so much so that it took me out of my head, and startled me with it's power. If I hadn't have been listening so carefully now that the Lord had my attention, I would have sworn I'd heard an audible voice that wasn't Deacon James's. It was weird. Okay, I know that sounds a little psychotic, so pretend we're all mystics here. And there Jesus was telling me with the kind of clarity that has eluded me all week, "I am the vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that bears no fruit he cuts away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes to make it bear even more."
Lord, have mercy. I've felt so unfruitful lately. While my husband and dearest friends plan and do huge wonderful things, I've embraced a ministry that is small. Lately, the Lord has spoken to me in a volume that so low I strain to hear it, and he speaks single word sermons. "Wait," he says. Or "listen." Or "stop." I always hear him say, "Pray." And "love." Love is always required, but all of these words say so much more to me than their brevity implies. I'm fortunate that he does speak to me, and I realize anew that being a spiritual companion is not a glamorous vocation. The preparation is unassuming. You study. You love. You listen. You pray. You trust for God's provision--you must!--because you're not even sure if you should charge for it. You humble yourself. You wait, and start the process all over again.
So there I was, hearing the Gospel, when this passage really starts freaking me out, because not only is Jesus's voice a razor sharp contrast to my drug-dulled mind, his word slices into my soul, and dear Jesus! It hurts. I feel something fall right off of me, leaving some insidious sin in pieces at my feet and soaked in blood. I don't have to tell you whose blood. These are the words, oh so personally, he spoke to me like the whisper of a prophet in a wayward daughter's ear saying, "change."
"You are pruned already, by means of the word that I have spoken to you. Make your home in me, as I make mine in you. As a branch cannot bear fruit all by itself, but must remain part of the vine, neither can you unless you live in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, with me in him, bears fruit in plenty; for cut off from me, you can do nothing."
I've made the gross error of looking at what God was doing for others so hard that I stop seeing (and being grateful) for what he is doing for me! And that, my friends, is sin. The cloak of grace is big enough to cover us all. And when I am quiet, when I am attuned, I feel the arm of Christ, and the stability his broken for me body through his love filled sleeve supports me. I may be sick; I may be loopy and droopy, but God hasn't forgotten me. He hasn't forgotten any of us. It's all going to make sense one day, all of our suffering.
I also heard this: "Anyone who does not remain in me is like a branch that has been thrown away--he withers; these branches are collected and thrown on the fire, and they are burnt."
I saw this in a new way. What if not remaining in him looks like the busyness of a very ordinary life. You work hard, and then harder. You come home and bark at your family for no good reason. It's not intentional. You're just tired, that's all, but somewhere in all your good work, you forgot that you were connected to a life force in which you live and move and have your being. What if your withering started when you were laboring with all your might, even for God? What if the fire is spiritual aridity, which, if you've ever experienced, you know is hell. What if you are burnt because you're burnt out?
And here's what would have brought tears to my eyes if I were capable of crying in the state I was in: "If you remain in me, and my words remain in you, you may ask what you will, and you shall get it. It is to the glory of my Father that you should bear much fruit. And then you will be my disciple."
Here was truly blessed assurance, Jesus telling me that to live in him, and let his words live in me, and what I ask for, including for his blessing in doing what my heart longs for, what I was made for, spiritual direction, will happen. I can ask for what I want, and get it. God wants me to bear fruit. I must keep abiding.
That was good news for my over-medicated, weary body and soul. It was manna for the day. I'll let tomorrow take care of itself.
In love and the vine,