THE VINE, THE BRANCHES, AND THE “ABIDING”
READ: John 15:1-8
“I am the true vine and my Father is the vineyard keeper. … Remain in me, and I will remain in you. A branch cannot produce fruit by itself, but must remain in the vine. Likewise, you, my disciples, cannot produce fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. Without me, you cannot do anything….My Father is glorified when you produce much fruit and in this way prove that you indeed are my disciples.” – John 15:1,4-5,8
“Abiding” is a most common Benedictine emphasis, and, at one time, was a most common Christian emphasis. And I daresay, the “Abiding” is at the very core of Christian spirituality and Christian ministry. The “Abiding” describes the miraculous accomplishment of the coming of Christ, the human and the Divine somehow becoming One.
Here at Greyfriars’ we return again and again to this affirmation … “We abide in Christ, so that Christ abides in us, so that we might abide with each other, so that we might be the abiding Presence of Christ in the world in which we live.” Not a day passes that we are not reminded of the miracle of the Abiding.
The Abiding … only of late have I taken most seriously this spiritual dimension of Christian spirituality. Oh, I have always taught and preached about the vine and the branches, Jesus’ metaphor for the miracle of the Abiding, but only lately have I invested myself mightily in the practice of the Abiding. In the days I live with the other Brothers of Greyfriars’ Abbey, I gain a most vivid experience of how difficult the “abiding” can be. For the Brothers, they are always “abiding” with each other, an “abiding” worked out over many years. But with me, an Oblate Novice, I “return” to the “abiding” with each visit. To a certain degree, I have to re-adapt to these other Brothers and our way of life together, each time I come. And I have noticed … that in some small way, the Brothers have to re-adapt to me. The “Abiding” always involves the learning how to live together and how to live together intimately … thus the “Abiding” always involves a measure of sacrifice of one’s own ways so that we can live successfully together in our way, and then to extend further … to live successfully His Way, by His Way becoming Our Way.
In our life of Christian discipleship, we must, with serious intention and ongoing devotion, nurture a most vivid awareness that we ARE living in Christ and Christ IS living in us. In the Benedictine approach, we nurture this sense of “Abiding” by giving it much voice. We often speak aloud to Christ, when we are by ourselves and when we are together. We allow our imaginative voicing to help us to “visualize” the actual Presence of Christ, both among us and within us. We always have a chair for Christ, a place either at table or in chapel, where we “imagine” Christ to be. In our prayers, we are always inviting Christ to come into our hearts and minds and into our hermitages and chapels. Though we do believe and know that God is always Present everywhere, our giving voice to His Presence keeps the “Abiding” always vivid before us.
In our prayer life, we focus on praying not to Christ, but praying with Christ, with Christ beside us. We pray as if Christ were truly involved in the conversation. We are always asking aloud for Christ’s guidance, help and assistance. In our chapter sessions, we will ask the Lord to give us wisdom as to a decision. We do so by always asking … most seriously and most authentically …“Lord, what have You to say to us on this matter?” Sometimes, we must wait to act … for we will together acknowledge …“We have not yet heard Christ’s counsel.” For the Benedictine Christian, the Abiding Christ is not a mere statement of doctrine, but rather the Abiding Christ is an actual living experience of a transformed reality.
We have a small vineyard here at Greyfriars’ with vines first planted in 1927, after having been transported to America from Tuscany. Thus we really don’t know the age of these vines. Each year the old branches are trimmed, making room for a new greening, but the vines themselves live on. The grapes that the branches produce come only by way of those immortal vines. Thus each year, the branches are renewed while the vine lives on, and together they produce the grapes … but they only do it by truly being part of one another. Without the vines, no vintage; without the branches, no vintage; but together, new wine.
Sometimes the Church forgets this miraculous Abiding … and we wonder … whatever happened to the wine that once flowed …
Brother Anthony of the Cross
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