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Lectionary Living

Challenging Times

(5/2): Acts 8:26-40  •  Psalm 22:25-31  •  1 John 4:7-21  •  John 15:1-8

    In the gospel reading for this Sunday, Jesus uses a metaphor about a vine and its branches, applying it to the community gathered in his name. For me, what it calls to mind is a family tree. In many ways, a family tree can be described not metaphorically, but in real life, according to this text.

    Every branch of a family tree that bears no fruit is removed (v. 2). Those without offspring are discontinued branches, so to speak. To the extent that they assist other branches, they do live on, however indirectly. The larger point, though, is that humans live on earth as biological organisms, subject to the same rules as all species.

    Every branch of a family tree that bears fruit is pruned (also v. 2), with the challenges of life providing the pruning. Many of these challenges occur due to the logic of a universe continually evolving. Covid, for instance, is simply a brainless but successful virus, continuing to mutate into various strains, while humans continue to push back with treatments and vaccines capable of limiting its destructive power. Life on earth is no picnic.

    In challenging times, the ability to recollect oneself matters. The advantage goes to families with at least one member able to stop and think – and then, act accordingly. The trick, to me, is to keep on this path. It's one thing to start off trying to stay calm – and a whole other thing to stick with it. Often, people use distancing from others as a way to stay calm. Although it may be necessary at some points, it is ultimately counter-productive, as challenges are better met by involving the resourcefulness of many rather than the strengths of a few.

    Jesus, of course, recommends the opposite of distancing. Abide in me, he says (v. 4). Remaining in Jesus is a whole other way of living. It means not only getting there but staying there.  Well, this is a tall order. When life gets difficult, the capacity to think diminishes. The mind begins to look for causal factors, just as a zebra looks for an explanation for a rustling in the bushes. If the zebra guesses wrong – if it's a lion, not the wind – the zebra is the lion's lunch.  

    In the complex world we live in, explanations are never simple. The capacity to look at the multitude of factors influencing one's life – to get the perspective necessary to make useful decisions – requires one to stay calm. The fear of a lion in the bushes, or its equivalent, can get in the way. The good news here is that the brain has enough flexibility to learn new ways of responding to threat. One can practice noticing one's own reactivity whenever a minor worry has been blown out of proportion. Around one's family, one can get a lot of practice!

    Often, a sense of responsibility for others interferes with one's capacity to stay calm. To the extent that a person worries about others and feels responsible for them, she assumes ever-heavier burdens on herself. Noticing when one is starting to get reactive, and asking oneself, well, whose problem is this? can be a start towards a calmer, more realistic view of life. Here, at least as I see it, one is invited to abide in Jesus.


Morning: When tension starts to rise, how do I recollect myself? How can I remain calm?

Evening: When did I notice my own reactivity? How did I manage myself in it?

Psalm 22:26 The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the LORD. May your hearts live forever!

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