Following on from my article last time about choosing life, choosing what gives us life (which in my case was choosing to become a poor Anglican priest driving a Toyota Corona rather than a fabulously wealthy lawyer driving a Porsche 911), I want to reflect on Jesus’ saying about being part of the vine (John 15: 1–8). Jesus uses this metaphor to describe what having a foundation in our lives looks like. For Christians, the thing that gives us life that helps us to make the right choices (to choose life), is this connection with Jesus as the source of life.
Jesus uses what would have been a very familiar image to make his point. Growing vines for fruit and of course to make wine was a common sight in ancient Israel. Once you got away from the desert and crossed the Jordan River into Israel itself, the soil and the climate was ideal for growing vines – not dissimilar to parts of South Australia actually – warm enough to grow vines and with just enough rain in the winter to make it all happen.
Part of tending vines at the end of the season is to cut off the branches. One of my fondest memories is going to some friends’ vineyard at the end of the season. They had trimmed all the spent branches and gathered them into a giant pile. Then, that evening, we lit the bonfire and had a great time just watching it burn.
This metaphor, this image, of the branches only having life when they are actually attached to the vine would have struck a chord with Jesus’ listeners. They would have been familiar with the concept. They would have seen the vines growing in the spring, producing the grapes in the summer, and then being cut back at the end of the season and the branches burnt in the fire.
Another metaphor which serves the same purpose to get us thinking about what truly gives us life is the metaphor of a big tree sending its roots down into the earth searching for water. In the southwest of Western Australia, where my family and I lived for several years, they grow Jarrah trees. We know that Jarrah trees produce great timber; a hardwood, for flooring and furniture. It’s a hard-wearing timber and it’s attractive to look at: a lovely deep red colour. Jarrah trees are large trees, so they need a decent water supply to grow to their full height. The southwest of Western Australia has a pretty decent annual rainfall, but like most of Australia, there are stretches over summer and early autumn when it doesn’t rain much, so the trees need to survive those times if they are to live through until the proper rains of winter. Jarrah trees are quite ingenious in that respect. They tend to grow in fairly rocky soil. They have a main tap root which goes deep into the soil to give them the stability they need, but then they send out all these other little roots, which go exploring for water. And these little roots work their way into the underground rocks, seeking out little cracks in the rock, tapping into trapped water deep underground and feeding it back to the main root and then on to the rest of the tree. It’s quite clever the way they are able to keep the large tree alive over summer as the trees wait for the autumn and winter rain.
So, my question from last time which is still relevant: “What gives you life?” There are a few things that give me life. Enough sleep, getting exercise, having some down time so I can return to work refreshed and energised, but the best source of life for me, the thing that truly keeps me going, the water that the Jarrah tree’s roots seek out – that’s my 25 minutes of meditation and prayer each day.
For me it works if I do it before school in the morning. That’s when my meditation time seems to work the best. That’s when I feel close to God, the source of my life, and am given energy for the day ahead. I suspect for most boys that mornings might not be the best time. I suggested to the students that maybe after school might work better – a little meditation time before homework. Perhaps even later in the evening might work better. The trick is to find a time that works, but I guarantee you, it will help. You will find it a helpful source of life.
Finding the source of your life will make everything else easier. It will indeed feel like you are connected to the vine.
The Reverend Dr Theo McCall