i am the vine
I can never hear Jesus’ words ‘I am the vine, you are the branches’ (Jn 15:1-8) without thinking of Bede Griffiths. He was responding to a warning concerning Christian meditation, especially Christians using so-called eastern techniques, that we should always maintain the distance between the Creator and the creature. “As if,” he wrote, “God hadn’t already overcome that distance in Christ! ‘I am the vine,’ Jesus said, ‘you are the branches.’ How could the vine be distant from the branch?”
When we hear this reading during the Easter season (and really all throughout these post-Easter weeks) we need to––more and more––keep in mind Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit. It’s as if we too, with the disciples, are reflecting back on what Jesus said at the Last Supper. The only difference is, unlike the disciples, we already know what’s coming ahead––Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. The reason I bring that up in this context is because of this subtle little point about the Spirit of God, the difference between what John Scotus Erigena called the datum and the donum, which I think we could translate the “given” and the “gift.” Meaning, in this context, the Spirit who is already there before the Christian dispensation and then that new portion of the Spirit that we claim is poured out on humankind due to the Christ event.
With that in the background, it’s all the more interesting that Jesus says ‘I am the vine and you are the branches.’ It’s already a present reality between Jesus and his disciples, even before his death and resurrection and the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost. Already the same sap that runs through Jesus runs through his disciples. It’s that ––the “given,” the natural Spirit––who is the source of our being as the source of Jesus’ being, and they are already united with him in that.
I am reminded of the teaching about the guru in India: that first of all you venerate the outer image of the guru, but then you realize that you are venerating the divine spirit within the guru––what India calls the shakti. But that is supposed to lead to that same shakti being awakened in you. You venerate the guru, you recognize the spirit within him or her, and that awakens the spirit within you. This is so easy to apply to Jesus. We gaze at Jesus and realize that he is the Spirit-bearer, the pneuma-tokos, but that leads to awakening the Spirit in me. I use this paragraph of Fr. Bruno’s from Second Simplicity often:
[Jesus] awakens that which lies at the core of my being; the series of Jesus’ healings in the gospels are the story of the gradual raising of this nascent person that I am to life and consciousness, to freedom and fullness. The knowledge of Jesus Christ is a unitive knowledge: it is the luminosity of my own true and eternal being. … In him I possess the secret knowledge of this unity and of this dynamism, which is history. I cannot capture in words the gravitational pull of this solar Christ, moving in the depths of my being.[i]
And there is a communal dimension to this unitive knowledge too. At the surface level we are, or seem to be, so very different from one another, not only us monks from folks outside of the monastery or in other parts of the world from other cultures, but even one from another in choir, in church. There actually is a commonality among us even at a physical level and a psychic (or a psychological) one, but even if we can’t experience, feel or realize that, we at least should know, acknowledge, and therefore make manifest that, “We are one in the Spirit, one in the Lord,” as the old song used to go. We look around at each other and say, “Wow! We are all branches on the same vine.” Maybe it’s at that point when we can also start to intuit even our physical symbiosis and our collective soul, because the Spirit is that which/who unites us at the deepest level. We’re all branches on the same vine.
To paraphrase how Thomas Merton experienced it (and wrote about it in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander), that’s when we realize that I am yours and you are mine, and that we could not be alien to one another even if we were total strangers. It would be like “waking from a dream of separateness,” to realize not only that we are one with God and can commune with the angels in our spirits, but that in our bodies we commune with all matter, and with our souls we embrace all humanity.
So let’s pray that the gospel of Jesus would awaken what lies at the core of our being, that the nascent person that we are would be raised to life and consciousness, to freedom and fullness in Christ. Let’s pray too that we may realize our deepest unity, our own oneness in the Spirit, and awaken from our dream of separateness and manifest that unity in our daily lives.
[i] Second Simplicity, 50.