The Vine and Branches: On Music, Microbes and Memory

John 15:1-8

As I was driving across town this morning with a whole host of thoughts competing for my attention, this song came on the radio. “Pray” is performed by  Sam Smith.

As you can hear, the lyrics tell a story as old as time itself. It is a song of repentance and of yearning for connection to something greater than oneself. The singer has come to the end of his hope, and opts to pray:

“There’s dread in my heart and fear in my bones and I just don’t know what to say. Maybe I’ll pray.”

Only he goes on to say this even though he has never believed in the One to whom he is praying. In fact, he asserts that regardless of where our various journeys lead, “Everyone prays in the end.”

Everyone prays in the end. And oh, might it be so that ‘in the end,’ everyone finds their deepest, truest connection with the One to whom we pray? With the Vine as the words of Jesus have it today?

And yes, I have known, I believe this to be so, that you and I who have been dreamed of, created by, beloved by God, only know our deepest meaning, our truest worth, when we recognize our most basic identity in and through this essential relationship. Yes, more than recognizing this, it is as we live like this is so, that we are our truest selves. Without this, like those branches cut off from the vine, we wither and fade and are good for nothing but kindling for fire which will eventually be reduced to only ash.

And so it is that I am thinking about other things which may also take us back to our most ‘essential’ selves. At least in part.

For instance,

I think of the music therapist who works with our local hospice. Jen will tell you that when she is working with an individual, once she learns their age, she can quickly determine what music will touch them. She simply goes to the years when they were teenagers and plays the music which first stirred them, body and soul. She will tell you that even when they are no longer verbal, there is evidence that this music is speaking to them at a very basic level. A smile may be present where there was none a moment before. More than this, breathing may come easier. Or blood pressure evens out.  Certainly experiencing once more the music which sang to us when we were young is a way of connecting us to life again. To ourselves again. And perhaps this is a metaphor for the vine and branches we consider today as we are returned to our truest selves.

Or this:

In these first days of a tardy spring I find myself yearning to get my garden beds ready. I am certainly not an accomplished gardener, but there is something about digging my hands into the soil, seeing the seeds sprout, tending the plants, and later bringing in a harvest of zucchini and tomatoes, garlic and potatoes which makes me feel rooted in something greater than myself. Indeed, apparently this is more than just about the experiences which have shaped me. Just this week I read about some relatively new research which says that gardening is good for depression. There is apparently something about the microbes in the soil itself which increase the making of serotonin in the brain which makes all the difference for some people. (To learn more, all you have to do is search ‘dirt microbes and depression’ or just click this link.) Indeed, we cannot help but recall our Ash Wednesday liturgy where we are reminded that we are dust and to dust we shall return. And we remember the creation narrative which speaks of the first humans being created from the very dust of the earth. And I wonder if as we turn the soil and plant the seeds and water the plants and savor the harvest. I wonder if then we might just be returned to a primal sense of wonder as we experience something of our ‘created-ness’ in the world and in ourselves and our connection to something greater. The vine perhaps.

And this as well:

There has been recent research which asserts that experiences of ‘trauma’ may be passed along genetically. The big words for this are “transgenerational epigenetic inheritance.” Again, there are lots of places out there where you can learn more, but here is one. Apparently, this research is especially helpful in getting to the root causes of anxiety or phobia in those who suffer from such as these. I have wondered, though, (and I have certainly found no scientific evidence for this), if other sorts of places and experiences can actually be imprinted on one’s identity by being passed along in the same way. I remember, for instance, standing on the edge of the vast ocean in Northern Ireland.  My dad was part Irish, you see, but his dad died when he was small and while this part of his identity was certainly known, it was perhaps not known as deeply had Tom Clark lived longer. As I stood watching the choppy sea on an April day, I felt a sense of affinity with it — or at least I thought I did — as if I had seen it, experienced it before. Indeed, might it actually be so that such ‘memories of belonging’ are also passed on through our very genes? And oh, I cannot help but wonder if this might be a metaphor for our ‘belonging,’ our connection as branches to the vine. Might it be imprinted on our very genes?

  • And so this morning as I drove to work I heard Sam Smith singing, “Pray” and I wonder if even for those who have never been deeply acquainted with the story of a God who loves them and who never lets them go. Of Christ Jesus who has grafted us to the very Vine itself. I wonder if for them and certainly for you and me for whom this part of our identity and meaning has been long articulated. I wonder if that longing for the Vine is always a part of us.
  • And I wonder how it is that you and I ‘abide’ in this identity, this very source of our life itself. Through the lyrics of the song he sings, Sam Smith would assert that it doesn’t have to happen in church, and while this is so, I wonder at how the church as you and I know it and experience it  — I wonder how we are called to nurture and encourage this sort of abiding within this community.
  • And yes, I am still wondering this. Jesus offers a beautiful metaphor for connection and abiding today and yes, bearing fruit. Might there be still other examples like those I have offered above which speak to our basic sense of belonging and connection? Even more than this, I do wonder how those also actually come to life in the ‘bearing of fruit.’

Indeed, Jesus says,

I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.  (John 15:5)

How do those words come alive for you?


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