11 May 2012

The Gift of Empathy: Tending the Zombie Vine

It's been a little while since I've posted, dear ones.  I've been working through some health issues and dietary changes trying to get my digestion to settle down.  But today I'm back, writing about an experience within the slight chaos that has been my life in the last month or so.

"Devouring the Vine"
As a zombie theologian, I've often struggled with this beautiful and frustrating thing called a body.  Sometimes there is passion and joy in every fiber of my being.  I feel connected to the earth, connected to my fellow human beings and the whole created order, and intimately connected to our Beloved, the Creator of all.  The zombie within has entered a time of remembering who she was created to be.  At other times, however, I loose my footing, I can't comprehend relationships and I completely loose sight of the Beautiful One we know as God.

In the times of forgetfulness and confusion, my body goes out of alignment, my muscles ache, my digestion is not as it should be, and it is difficult to maintain relationships with nearly anyone.  I forget who I am in relation to creation.  My communication gets all garbled.  And generally I begin to focus in on my ailments and the undiagnosed diseases I am certain are lurking somewhere within my system.  In short, when I am disconnected, I am withering, inside and out.  In such times, the zombie within becomes fully and completely visible to all who care to spend more than a few moments in my presence.

"Tending the Vine"
Remember when our Beloved came to earth and infused the being of a fleshly body, God became human?  While walking the earth in human form, known as Jesus the Christ, our Beloved offered compassion, healing, mercy, justice, steadfast love and a great many teachings about life, death and the resurrection to come.  During one of these times of teaching, Jesus spoke of Himself as the Vine and His companions as the branches.   

Abide in me.  Grow in my love.  Remain connected to one another through me.  You will know the fullness of life and fruitfulness as I prune, feed, transplant and water you. 

In the same time of teaching, Jesus says that the branches which do not abide in Him and bear fruit wither and die and are thrown into the fire.  Over the years this has often been translated as a metaphor speaking of eternal condemnation and the fires of gehenna (better known in our culture as "hell", though much remains to be said and interpreted between the old and new wording).  But one thing is missing from this teaching in John's gospel as we studied it last Sunday.  There is no mention that Jesus is the one doing the burning, nor our Beloved Creator, nor the Holy Spirit (although if you insist it is so, I would ask whether the burning is a destructive or reconstructive burning).  There is a note that the Father removes the branches that do not bear fruit -- God does prune -- but does God burn?  I wonder...

Consider this: What if the burning that happens is at the hands of the other branches?  What if the pain and suffering comparable only to an endless burning trash heap is actually that which is caused by our fellow humans who believe they are connected to the Vine?  (In reality they are filled with spite and hatred towards all other branches, and John's letters are very clear that such branches are dead and prove themselves liars before the God they claim to serve and love.)  I often wonder about this, dear ones, as I watch the news or listen to debates in class, or watch the postings on Twitter and Facebook regarding religion and politics.  If you insist on fighting, Paul says, take care that you don't bite and devour one another.

As I've wrestled with the physical self and tried to evaluate the emotional and spiritual aspects of my being in connection with my physical ailments as of late, it has been easy to enter the wasteland of depression, self-doubt and anxiety regarding the future.  If I can't be sure that my body will work properly today, how can I plan for anything beyond today?

Many people want to know what is next for me.  I honestly do not know, but few people will allow the question to remain unanswered.  There must be some reason you were called to seminary, they insist, and because you're graduating, you must know what that reason is and provide me with an answer.  They don't say this outright, but with their barrage of questioning, the incessant suggestions and the unsolicited advice, their intention becomes clear.  And the singe marks on my spirit from these and other conversations as of late serve as testimony to the validity of my interpretation of Jesus' parable of the Vine and the branches in John's gospel.

In the midst of the unanswered questions, the stress of having a loved one near to me opting out of treatments for cancer, and the broad spectrum of changes occurring in my life right now, I'm finding that precious few people take the time to offer the gift of compassion.  When it does happen, when someone I confide in refrains from advice solicitation and simply holds my hand, offers me a tissue or walks with me in silence, I begin to feel reconnected once more.  If someone can hear my anger and let the rage be expressed without taking it personally, (because it's not anger at them, just at certain life situations) then the zombie within relaxes once more and becomes open to receiving and giving the love of Christ.

One of the most compassionate things that I have experienced this week was the expression of deep sympathy from my naturopathic doctor.  I'm so sorry this is all happening to you, my doctor said, I'm here to help you through.  And the priest who prayed over me for healing and anointed my head with oil this week continued the compassion: You have a lot of change happening in your life.  There is much to grieve over.  We're here for you and we pray for a blending of the Holy Spirit and science in your time of transition and healing.

Oh, dear ones, let us love one another!  Let us show the results of our abiding in Christ's love by offering compassion and being a healing presence to one another and throughout the entire earth.  In so doing, we will reflect the presence of the Kingdom which is rising up among us.  Even hardened zombies may begin to remember who we are all created to be once the glory of the Lord is shown in our compassion, mercy, justice and steadfast love for the entire created order.  May it be so in Jesus' name.

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