And He began telling this parable: “A man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and did not find any.
“And he said to the vineyard-keeper, ‘Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?’
“And he answered and said to him, ‘Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer; and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down.’”
- Luke 13:6-9 (The Parable of the Fig Tree)
Some of the people I’ve met recently can point to one or two parables or passages in the Bible and say, “Look at that! That is where I found God’s purpose for me!” I’m not sure I ever saw a message so personal or clear in any particular thing. I identify with a lot of different biblical stories. As most of you know, I like to make a lot of analogies and find metaphor in just about everything that crosses my path. Maybe that has kept me from developing a special bond with any one thing; there’s too much to choose from.
The parable of the fig tree, though, has long managed to fall into a special category, or perhaps I should say a lack of category. It’s not that I don’t understand it, and it’s not that I can’t place its meaning in my life. The fig tree has some other element to it, an element of the numinous, ineffable sacred. I suppose, if you allow me to personify it a bit, the parable is like a man facing away from me. I know he is a man. I see what he is about and what he is doing, but his face is hidden.
A few minutes ago, I experienced a totally cheesy, totally predictable twist. At least, that’s how I’d describe it if my life were a movie. As I read the passage again that person/parable turned around to face me and there I was, staring back at myself. I told you it was predictable!
I’ve been learning to pray by placing myself in the scenes, becoming the actors, becoming onlookers, really being there. I have no idea why I never put myself into the position of that tree before, but the moment I realized it things woke up inside me.
How do I see myself? Am I worthy of being saved? How much longer can I go on “bearing no fruit”? If I am tended to, if I make the right decisions and respond to what my vineyard-keeper is trying to sow in my life, will I have a real worth? What is my fruit? It is love (caritas), obviously! Charity is the fruit that becomes the seed, that grows and spreads and falls again and again… The questions, the metaphors, they go on and on until I catch myself shaking my head back and forth in wonder at the blindness of a moment ago, of a lifetime ago.
This is what contemplative prayer is. It is waking up. It is suddenly having words stop being words in such a profound way that you shake your head at your former self, wondering how you could have ever been that person. It is waking up in a moment and knowing, just knowing, that you are making the right decision.
On that note, I received word that I have been accepted to enter the tri-state novitiate for the Maryland, New York, and New England Provinces of the Society of Jesus this summer.
The letter represents a culmination of a decade of discernment, countless hours of writing, of reading, and prayer; and yet this is just another beginning. It is a milestone, a thing to be celebrated with joy and excitement, but I can’t fool myself into thinking I have really accomplished anything yet. I still stare at my branches and see no fruit. Maybe this represents buds?
I try more and more every day to live my life like I am fully in bloom, to share the love and faith and my sense of joy in the Lord. Soon I will have more support in that respect than I’ve ever known. I will also have people pushing me (and pulling me, I’m sure) to do more, to be more, to grow in that relationship of faith. The idea is so amazing, I can’t even come up with a pretty metaphor!
New things are on the horizon. I love new things.
To those of you who have been praying for me, thank you so much for absolutely everything. If you have a moment, join me in praying for the other (currently anonymous) souls who are still in the long discernment/application process. God bless!