I was on a walk with my husband the other day, and as we rounded the street corner, I saw one of our near-neighbors clearing up detritus in his front landscaping in preparation for the coming spring. I saw the most beautiful plant next to his concrete steps—dynamic violet, philodendron-like leaves in an expansive bouquet of vine and end-of-summer desperation to become as hefty and lush as possible. I asked him what it was, and he responded he didn’t know, but would I like him to cut some starts before it died?
I accepted his magnificent offer, and when we walked back by his house, I found a small mason jar on his fence ledge with two lovely starts. I took them home, accidentally left them on my porch for three days after forgetting they were there, and when I found them mostly dead, I sadly carried them inside just to see if they would still root.
The more significant cutting rooted right away—within days, delicate but hardy shoots made known their intention to keep this plant alive. Days later, they were so long they began to wrap themselves in the shape of the jar I placed them in and I had to refill the water they insatiably consumed. The other, smaller cutting, however, wasn’t doing anything. The leaves dried and fell off; the end of the vine hardened in the water and showed no life signs, which made me sad.
I had one successful planting, but the dying or supposedly dead one I wanted to live the most—the more vulnerable the life, the more hope I had for it. I was rooting for it—pun intended. It wouldn’t hurt to leave it in the water for a least a few more days, so I did. And about 1.5 weeks after first placing this gorgeous vine in a mason jar, the underdog cutting grew its first white, defiant root, and I knew it would live.
This morning I thought about the miracle of biology—that a plant cut off from its foundation can, on its own, continue to live, that some inherent process in its DNA has equipped it to not only survive, but thrive. And then I thought about people, how we, too, have this instinct.
John 15 is one of my favorite chapters in the whole Bible; in it, Christ talks about his relationship with us in the same circumstance I have described. He says, ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit’ (John 15:1-3, NRSV). Not only does Christ have hope for us to live, but He puts our dying, weak selves in the water of His own Spirit, and His life becomes the source for ours—to renew, to not only survive, but thrive. God is the one who removes the dead leaves; all evidence of the old life is cleared, so the new growth is lush.
But it is the rooting which is even more critical because this is what we can’t see—you and I are not in so clear of jars; ours are clay and sinew, organically beautiful and complex bodies established in diverse conditions. We must consider that we are to grow roots not only in where we are but in who—we can’t underestimate the anemic life we live if our expectation is only on this temporal place. Our real-life is in the vine that is Christ, no matter how cut off we feel from Him.
No one and nothing is outside the reach of God’s mercy.
If the world says a darkness is too dark, God says there is no place His light cannot go. What can Yahweh offer you? Love. Compassion. Acceptance. A made-for-you family. He is parent, sibling, friend, partner, counselor, savior, and you can always, always know where you stand with him. No matter what your experience has been, as people have often butchered the Church’s actual intent or function, the truth is that Christ wants you there. Whatever you think about yourself, let it fall within these parameters:
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. (John 15:13-16, NRSV)
Don’t be threatened by the word command. Here, the mandate is ‘that you love one another as I have loved you’ (John 15:12), not some harsh life of punitive stratagem.
There is new life and hope offered to everyone, and I assure you that God will follow you for a lifetime to see even one minuscule root of you form in His hand, a place from which nothing on earth or heaven or hell can steal you.
Be well, friends, in this season of reflection.