After all these years, I still miss autumn days. I have found the rhythm of the rainy and dry seasons here, but there’s something about all those apples and pumpkins and falling leaves that resonates deep in my soul.
I want to continue on with the thoughts I shared last week – time and fruit bearing and crafting a life. Last week I wrote this…..
We are fruit bearers, that is our job – so deepening and ripening needs to be at the forefront of our minds – we need to care about it and attend to the maturing process.
It’s quite interesting when the Bible offers this image of Vine and vineyard, of fruit and wine. The simple fact is that grapes do not grow along the ground, they are trellis plants – they need some type of structure to hold them, a frame that gives them room to stretch and expand.
Spiritual writers often speak of shaping a “rule of life”. When I hear that phrase, I think “trellis”. Margaret Guenther wrote an amazing book called Holy Listening, The Art of Spiritual Direction. It is a rich and full manual on growing up spiritually, but I thought her comments on working with people to craft a “trellis” or “rule of life” were worthy to share here this week.
Most people who come to us for direction value their time, protest vigorously that they do not have enough of it, and would probably deny they waste it. Yet the commandment to observe the Sabbath is routinely – even proudly – violated by many of us who are meticulous in our observance of the other nine. “Not wasting time” becomes an excuse for neglecting time for true rest and reflection, what the poet Lessing called “the creative pause”. Most important, we can use busyness and crowded schedules to hide from God. Even as we delude ourselves that we are being good stewards, we fill our days so tightly that we close him out. Our excessive busyness masks the sin of sloth…..People need a workable rule of life to bring proportion to their stewardship of time and energy.
I sometimes ask people to keep a careful record of their activities, hour by hour, for a day – and better still, for a week. This is analogous to the helpful practice of dieting for weight loss in which the dieter records each morsel of food taken in. In both cases there are surprises. The person who “eats nothing” discovers she has been eating all day, taking in a highly calorific mouthful here, a highly calorific mouthful there. The person who would like to pray but “has no time” may find that he is able to watch reruns of The Odd Couple and never misses Twin Peaks – or whatever the current media fad may be. But it is not fair of me to single out television, although its influence is insidious; late-twentieth-century citizens have almost unlimited opportunities for consumption, stimulation and empty activity.
At any rate, when the log of activity is examined, it will reveal soft places, waste and evasions. The directee is able to see time as a precious gift, to be used and structured. Then it is time to create a rule which takes into account the relationship to God, others and one’s deepest self. Areas of disproportion and hence potential sinfulness become apparent, so that the rule can serve as a reminder where caution is needed. Self-care is a holy obligation; yet a surprising number of people formulate a rule which stipulates how many minutes a day will be spent in prayer or how many times a week they will be present at the Eucharist, but ignore their dangerous addictions to food, alcohol, or nicotine. Finally there needs to be provision for sheer fun. It was a joyous insight when I realized that in Middle English “silly” meant “blessed”, cognate with the Modern German selig. So I find myself asking directees, “What have you put in this rule for fun? Where’s the blessed silliness in it?” The outward form of the rule is not important; it can be a terse outline of a few words, or it can run to several pages to be included in a journal. It is, after all, a quite disposable document, subject always to review and revision.
Okay, so let’s unpack this a little and let me offer up a few suggestions for building a trellis.
1. Luscious fruit and wooden sticks are not the same thing – the trellis serves the process of bearing fruit. I know way too many people who have rigid structure without life.
2. Yet grapevines need structure, something to wrap our little tendrils around and a frame that will stand firm in the rain and wind.
3. It’s always a worthwhile exercise to examine your frame – first to find the “soft places, waste and evasions”, and second to truly investigate what holds you and what does not. I know far too many people who have a frame, but it is does not give life. I think this is what Margaret means when she says – Then it is time to create a rule which takes into account the relationship to God, others and one’s deepest self.
4. Sometimes a renovation is in order. I’m currently working on my trellis – I found some dry rot, places where termites have hollowed out the wood – I realized I was in sore need of some fresh practices that would sustain new areas of growth.
5. And then of course, leaving time and space for joy. I’ve been working very hard in these days, and could use some “blessed silliness”.
Get out the hammer and nails and set to work dear friends. Craft a structure that will support a beautiful, fruit-bearing life.
Con amor – praying for you all this week.