This Contemplation material is also available as an audio recording.
How has your week been? Mine has been up and down with days that have flown along smoothly and others which have presented challenges and left me tired and aware of the need to make sure I look after myself and get enough time for rest and renewal as my work and circumstances mean I have a lot on my plate most of the time.
One daily commitment on my plate is walking Matti, our Cocker Spaniel. It is seldom a chore, though, because I often use this time to drink deeply from the wellsprings of God’s goodness bubbling through all the natural beauty we are so fortunate to have on our doorsteps. I am thinking of the bluebells which are spread like petticoats beneath the trees, the ferns which are beginning to unfurl whilst the daffodils are dying back and the Mile-a-Minute Montana clematis which is draped in glory wherever it is planted. There is so much to enjoy. My walks with Matti are a daily tonic but also a daily prompt as they remind me that the parables and teaching of Jesus often drew on the natural world to make a point and so those stories come to mind as I walk.
Against the backdrop of creation and the spring growth, therefore, I am led to think about this Covid-19 time in terms of its potential to encourage my spiritual growth and deepen my dependence on God. In that context, I understand that this is not automatically an easy time for in the same way that snowdrops, delicate though they are, have to push through the hard winter ground to flower, and blossom has to risk a late frost if it is going to respond to the growing warmth and light of spring, growth seldom comes without risk or effort and, to come at all, I may need to have experienced the letting go of autumn and the long rest of winter. Each season has its place in the life and growth cycle and if this IS a time of growth then I need to understand the requirements of this time and season that will help to sustain this period of growth as well as the risks that might threaten it.
Of course, this may not feel like a time of growth for you. You may sense that part of the invitation of this lockdown period is to let go or to rest instead; our seasonal patterns may not be the same and the requirements and risks will be different too. However, we can both benefit from reflecting on the seasons so that we have the benefit of the wisdom such reflections might offer us.
The material today will include, therefore, a reflection on the seasons but also will invite reflection on the parable of the vine and the branches for, whatever the season, if we are not in the true vine, if we do not remain in Jesus, we will not grow or fruit at all.
CENTRING EXERCISE (10 minutes)
Sit comfortably with your feet planted on the ground and your back straight. As you sit do not try and hold your weight but, without slumping or slouching, do allow your weight to be held by the chair.
Breathe deeply in and out and feel yourself settling, trusting the chair to hold you; trusting God to hold you. For the next minute focus on your breathing – feeling your lungs expand as you draw your breath in, feeling them collapse as you breathe out. Be present to this moment in the rhythm of your breath.
Now, I would invite you to imagine either a flower bud or the frond of a fern closed tight. See it with your mind’s eye.
Now as you picture it, imagine also the sun rising over it bringing its light and warmth.
The sun is upon it and water is flowing up through its stem to nourish it.
In response to the heat, the light and the water, the bud or the fern, very slowly, almost imperceptibly, begins to loosen. The bud swells slightly, the fern’s tight roll eases.
The heat and warmth of the sun persist and, as the plant continues to be nourished, it gradually begins to open.
One petal springs away from the others, then another and another. The fern unfurls more and more. This is a slow, gentle, organic process.
The bud opens wider and wider to reveal its beautiful interior, its delicate centre, its vulnerable heart. The frond springs back one among other fronds to do likewise and the plant’s full expanse and glory are revealed.
The flower, the fern, has opened wide, trusting the warmth and the light, and the sustaining power of the water. It was beautiful shut but it is glorious and magnificent open.
You are invited to dwell longer in the warmth and light of God’s grace and love, to rest your feet in holy water and to drink deeply from it, trusting in God’s perfect provision for you. Take your time, don’t rush to move on.
The invitation of this period is to reflect on the seasons and to consider which season you are currently in and what you might, as a result, need to be mindful of. A brief narrative of each season is offered to help you do that. The narrative is just a springboard, a starting point, for you to go on and contemplate more deeply the fullness and richness of the seasons and the one in particular that speaks to you.
SPRING is the time of new growth; the gradual greening of our beautiful world. However, the new shoots rise up and the blossom takes shape despite a lingering risk of last frosts that can threaten harm. The frost is not the healthy pruning of a well-tendered and cared for plant but the onslaught of cold and unwelcome conditions. As always, rainfall may vary with the potential also of either overwhelming or depriving a plant of what it needs to grow. Whilst celebrating the colour and vibrancy of spring, the hope and renewal, the encouragement and promise that it brings, care must be taken to nurture and protect plants that might not otherwise safely develop to meet the full joy and abundant growth of summer.
SUMMER brings strong increased growth. Flowers are in bloom, trees are in leaf, hedges are full and crops are ripening. Growth seems easier in the summer with the longer, warmer days and the vital extra energy the summer sun offers. But this significant growth still needs other nutrients to be present in the soil and, for most plants, a good and steady supply of sufficient water. Attention needs to be paid to the weeds that grow with vigour as well and which may choke and inhibit other growth. If rain is not sufficient, extra watering may be required. Care may also be needed to protect plants from pests that thrive in the warmer conditions as well.
AUTUMN is the time of harvest. Well nurtured growth through the summer is now ready to give its fruit or crop; a harvest which can fall or be left to rot or collected and celebrated. The trees often show forth a final burst of beauty and colour as the strengthening winds and cooler nights set in train this transformation and letting go. Leaves are everywhere to be gathered up and added to compost heaps where their mulch will add vital nutrients to enrich the soil of next year’s planting after the quiet wait of winter.
WINTER is the season of exposure as the loss of leaves lays bare the structure of a plant in all its glory and its imperfections; some plants show no sign of their presence as they wait hidden from view in the cold dark earth for the sun and warmth to revive them. The cold and the wind suggest threat and yet the plant, being able to power down from the effort required to maintain an outward show, can be strengthened as its resources are concentrated inwards, as it rests and gains resilience.
The seasons have much to say to us. What season are you living just now?
MEDITATION (20 minutes)
The invitation is to sit with verses 1 to 8 of John 15. Jesus is the true vine and we are the branches. Whatever the season, we need to remain in him. In reading the text I would encourage you to notice words that come to life for you and to focus on these and to think about their full and varied meaning. For example, the word ‘REMAIN’ resonated for me as we find ourselves having to remain inside so much. I focused my personal meditation, as a result, on this one word and what it held for me. If you feel one word or a phrase shimmering for you in this way, I would encourage you not to rush or throw your thoughts too wide but to focus there in that place.
The Vine and the Branches
15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
As always, finish by gathering up your reflections and praying over them further with thanksgiving for what has been revealed.