“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower…[every branch that bears fruit] he prunes so that it bears more fruit.” (John 15:1-8)
Last year, I had the opportunity to visit a winery in California. Walking through the vineyard, I bit into a grape. The grape was amazingly sweet. I asked the tour guide how these vines bore such sweet grapes. She explained to me that the vineyard workers pruned the vines, binding drooping tendrils and trimming off branches to re-focus their growth. Along with sun, water, and good soil, pruning is essential to getting sweet grapes.
Pruning is not a hostile act to the branch. Rather, it is an act of hope. The vinedresser expects that the vine will produce delicious grapes. But in order to do so the vine must be pruned so it can re-direct its energy.
Sometimes we need to do some personal “pruning” ourselves: Every activity we engage in involves time and energy. Are we spending our time and energy on things that are helping us to become better people? Or, do we need to say “no” to some things that are not really bringing forth our better selves? Are we being drained of energy that we know could be better used somewhere else in our lives? When you’re 80 will you be able to look back and say, “Yeah, that was time well-spent. I’m so happy that I spent so much of my 40s doing that!”
Sure, there are life commitments that we must undertake. Some are difficult and draining, but we must live them nonetheless.
But honestly, sometimes (maybe too often!) I find myself saying “yes” to unnecessary things and situations that drain my energy. I unwittingly convince myself that “this is the way it has to be.”
This is where I need to “prune” both my thinking and my schedule. So, I pray for the courage to say “no.” But also, I pray for the wisdom to know where I need to refocus my energy and invest my time. I trust that the Divine Vine-Grower will empower me to do that, if I am open to it.
Let’s pray that our lives may flow out toward others as sweet, vivifying wine. Those pruning shears may be our key to more abundant growth.
My husband thinks I am nuts when I dialog with my cats. It takes all forms: silly high voices, singing, kisses … it’s true, it’s crazy but it’s lots of fun and definitely a two-way conversation as this article points out.
With vivid memories of four feet of snow and bitter cold,
the coming of Spring in New England is especially sweet this year.
Temperatures have been on the cool side but that only makes the show of blooming flowers and leaves opening last that much longer.
Early Spring is a fleeting time; the landscape literally changes overnight.
I wanted to capture this rebirth and relish it.
For example, between yesterday (when this photo was taken, 4-28-15)
and today, this forsythia bush sprouted green leaves overnight!
And here’s something else (really obvious)
that I missed from not taking the time to observe:
Because the flowers are green,
I never made the connection that they were in fact, flowers!
I thought instead they were an early configuration of the final leaf
when in fact the leaf is the fruit of the flower.
Looks like my favorite saying of “I’m slow but I get it eventually” works here!
At any rate, I hope you are enjoying Spring wherever it is blooming.
Take a moment to examine these miracles closely and stroke the leaves,
still moist and new.
Before you know it, they will be gone, replaced with the lush foliage of summer.
Maybe take a moment and say “thank you” for this rebirth
that comes every year despite the harshness of the winter.
I visit Twitter and Facebook frequently and find many fun and fascinating links–it’s about time I share them with you!
On the “Fun Facts” front ..
Meet the woman who invented the dishwasher – now this is my kind of woman! I love reading about people who solve their own problems. One of my favorite personal sayings is “There’s a solution to every problem.”
In the Book corner …
Meet beloved children’s author Beatrix Potter – “Beatrix Potter’s (1866-1943) inspiration came from the nature and animals that surrounded her as a child and sprouted an imagination that would delight the world forever.” Who can forget The Tale of Peter Rabbit? I didn’t realize she also did the illustrations which are so sweet.
During the fifteen years that I was a professional musician I went out on gigs, holding concerts and sometimes doing some public speaking. When my mother died in 2010, I stopped doing that sort of thing. Now, five years later, I’ve decided to dive back in.
It is not without fear and trepidation for I am rusty! While I had my years of experience to fall back on, I wasn’t sure I would remember how to do it. Something once familiar to me had become unknown territory.
Was it worth trying? Yes!
I was recently invited to speak to a group of women from the nearby parish of St. Rose of Lima in Northborough, MA. They were having their annual communion breakfast at the Juniper Hill Country Club. Ensconced in a lovely upper room with skylights and French doors, we feasted on a sumptuous brunch prepared by the staff which included thick French toast, scrambled eggs, bacon, ham with pineapple, fresh fruit and other delicacies. The women were very welcoming and I felt right at home with them. The staff was just as friendly and helpful as could be.
I spoke on a subject near and dear to me: that of stepping out in faith and taking on the risk to live more deeply (see previous post).
Let’s go swimming!
Using the water analogy of which I am fond, I gently challenged the women to “go swimming,” both in their faith lives and their daily lives (for it is after all, the same life). I talked of how sometimes we find ourselves on the surface of our lives, rather like sitting in a boat on the river. We observe life passing by us; we may even get a lot done while in our boats. But we never go into the water; we never actually get wet.
What would it be like if we got out of our boats and dove below the surface, into a deeper part of ourselves?
How would our lives change?
What would we see and what would we learn about the Spirit of God dwelling within us?
How could that deep dive teach us more about who we are and what we have to offer?
Are there risks involved?
Is it worth those risks?
Leaping into the unknown
I asked the women to recall a time when they were coerced by friends to go on the scariest ride in the amusement park. We all murmured and smiled as I described such a ride (in this case, on a water slide). I asked them to imagine how they felt:
Were they out of breath by the time they splashed safely into the pool at the end?
Were they mad at their friends for making them go?
Would they ever try it again?
And, what about that strange tingling feeling suggesting that the ride might have been worth it after all?
The wild rides in our lives
I then shared about my wild ride (and that of our family) in caring for and then losing our parents, and dealing with the aftermath of grief. While much of what I held most dear was lost along the way, a new life opened up as well–a life of adventure.
Come on the journey
I think of Gandalf convincing a timid and skeptical Bilbo to come along on an unexpected journey, with the result being that Bilbo would be transformed. (This wasn’t part of last Sunday’s presentation but I think Bilbo will figure in future presentations; he’s such a great example).
God extended similar invitations to me and like Bilbo I hesitated, but then accepted. Along the way I experienced love, consolation and healing. I discovering courage I didn’t think I had. In the process, my creativity, long dormant, was brought to life again.
This lead to an unexpected confidence which empowered me to take chances, step deeper into the water of my life, and go swimming. All along the way I was held, cared for, comforted and led by a God who loved me beyond reason.
Is it worth it to go swimming?
I believe so. Conditions can be turbulent at times. But in the end, we will grow and be changed.
Bilbo was not shielded from the harshness of life and there were losses along the way. It seemed at times that Gandalf abandoned him. Gandalf, however, never forgot. When most needed, he was there for Bilbo.
We too have our Guide deep within ourselves, bidding us to follow and to be transformed.
You can hear this portion of my presentation here:
I ended my presentation by suggesting that the best way to get started on such a journey was to ask God to teach us how to accept his love. Once we learn to love and be loved, we can do anything.
We all had fun at the end singing this song together:
I enjoy giving talks. It gives me a chance to share the wonderful blessings and lessons I have received through my amazing grief journey.
That’s right, amazing.
New life can emerge even when we are flattened by tough losses and difficult times. We do have some control: we can fight it and say no, or we can say “yes” and go along for the journey. The main thing for me is that I knew I was not alone; I have a Guide who knows me better than I know myself.
So I am glad I decided to go along.
It seems appropriate to be pondering these things as I note the fifth anniversary of my mom’s passing today (April 22nd). I know I am thankful to have had such a wonderful mother who taught me about trying new things and living life deeply, with zeal, joy and gratitude. Her life, even at the end, prepared me to dive deeper into my own life.
I love it when people say I look and sound like her. I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Looking for a speaker?
If you’re looking for a lively speaker who loves to share and can lead a great sing-a-long, look me up. Write me at email@example.com and let’s talk.
Sunday’s gospel (Luke 24:35-48) recounts an appearance of Christ to the disciples after the resurrection. Over the years, many people have wondered and asked, what exactly were these “appearances” like? What actually happened?
Whatever did happen, the experiences transformed a group of frightened individuals, broken apart and scattered by the death of their friend, into a vibrant faith-filled community; a community unafraid to face opposition and adversity.
Moreover, this “community” began getting a reputation for treating the most vulnerable members of society (widows, orphans, the sick, slaves, children and the unborn) with a dignity and compassion unheard of in Roman society at the time. (Yeah, people who fell into any of those six categories were especially vulnerable during the First century: Little or no protection and not much recourse to care.)
That got me thinking about the mission of the Church: To be unafraid to go out and care for all the categories of human beings that are vulnerable, prey to exploitation and labeled as ‘unimportant’ by society, the government or whatever the politically correct social mores and politics “du jour” might be. When this happens, inspired by the Spirit of Christ, the mission of the Church is fulfilled.
I love it when I see everyday folks caring for humans that would otherwise be voiceless or don’t get much consideration when state or federal budgets get drawn up; or certain groups that get ignored because the media doesn’t consider it “newsworthy.” (Think of all the news hype and talk and chatter surrounding the former New England Patriot’s Aaron Hernandez murder trial. Now think of this: 3 women die every day in the U.S because of domestic violence. How much news coverage does that ever get?)
I guess I’m lucky (really, blessed!) to have spent 27 years of my life crossing paths on a daily basis with people who actually care for the humans who don’t always get cared for. For me, this is one of the most profoundly enriching of working in the Church. And, like anything else the experience is surprising: You sometimes find it in the Church where you don’t expect to; you find it lacking where you would have expected to find more of it…
I hope that everyone can cross similar paths with people, whatever your calling or vocation in life. Such experiences of bold compassion are life-giving. They can completely change your outlook on life and your vision of the world.
Having witnessed them, something of the “Divine” appeared and made its presence felt.
Miraculously we hit 70 degrees on Sunday and out came the kayaks!
I live in central Massachusetts and not that long ago we were buried under over 4 feet of snow. Even though the front walkway, the deck and the back half of the driveway have been clear for a few weeks now, I still expect to walk out my door to huge snow mounds.
Finally, we are into the warm weather: grass turning green, red buds on the maples, spring peepers singing at night and the robins greeting the dawn. And it’s actually becoming light at 5:45 am! My favorite season of the year.
The Blackstone and Quinsigamond rivers run through my hometown of Grafton and water levels are high. Rich and I kayaked on Lake Ripple which has a dam and other smaller waterfalls:
The thrill of the day was this duck sighting:
These ducks were very accommodating; I was able to watch them for a long while. They even got out of the water and walked on a nearby lawn. Waddling around they looked comical, quite the contrast from their elegance in the water.
But I have yet to identify them! I am thinking the grey one with the tuft on the head is a female and either a Hooded or Common Merganser. I believe the second duck is a male Common Merganser as the head is actually dark green. There appears to be a yellow eye ring. No clue at all regarding the third duck who was totally black!
If any of you out there know your ducks and can identify them, please leave a comment and let me know. Are they migrants passing through or native to central Massachusetts?
Thanks for your help! Whether or not I find out what they are, it was a wonderful day out on the water in early spring.
Addendum:Mystery solved. Someone from the The Great Backyard Bird Count Facebook group said they are domestic mallards. She wrote further, “The one with the puffy head is a crested mallard – that’s a genetic deformity that’s been bred into them. Note the different colors and patterns and long bodies, characteristics of domestic mallards. Hooded mergansers are short-bodied and compact, and all mergansers have very distinctive, saw-toothed bills.”
The snow does eventually melt away and things do get better!
Exploring the rich symbolism of the Paschal (Easter) Candle
During the entire 50 days of the Easter Season, from Easter Sunday until Pentecost Sunday, the Easter (Paschal) candle stands prominently at the head of the center aisle, at the entrance to the sanctuary.
The Easter candle is a sign of the Risen Christ’s enduring presence in our midst and of our participation in his victory over death.
Details of the Easter Candle
You will notice that there is a cross on the Easter Candle. There are also five nails into which five grains of incense have been placed, While the cross represents the instrument of Christ’s death, the nails represent the wounds on his body, The candle, therefore, represents the Lord’s passing from death to life. The grains of incense represent Christ’s death which has been accepted by God as a “fragrant offering and sacrifice” (Ephesians 5:2). Furthermore, the book of Revelation says that incense represents “the prayers of the saints” which rise before God (Revelation 5:8)
Beginning and the End
Above and below the cross are the letters “Alpha” and “Omega” (see image). These are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet respectively. In between these letters are numerals indicating the current year—2015. The juxtaposition of these numerals conveys that Christ is eternal, his love is undying, his victory is everlasting: “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” (Revelation 22:13)
At the conclusion of the Easter Season, after the last Mass of Pentecost Sunday on May 24, the Easter Candle is moved to a place next to the baptismal font where it will be lit at every baptism. It will also be lit and placed next to the casket at every funeral Mass. Hence it will remind us that in the water of Baptism we are called to share in Christ’s victory or sin and death by embracing a life of discipleship. With the death of every Christian we celebrate his or her passing from death to new life—in the pattern of Christ himself.
The final word
The Easter Candle silently, yet eloquently, expresses the story of our Easter faith. This “pillar of light” towering over us, reminds us that “God’s Grace is taller than us, bigger than us, greater than us.” The victory of Christ is the final word to the human story.
Foster Dad John has a new foster—meet Peaches Chutney. She is not a kitten but a beautiful elder calico. At thirteen she (along with four other older cats) was surrendered to a shelter. All five cats have hyperthyroidism, a common condition for older cats that requires treatment.
Adopted by a community
Foster Dad John’s shelter, Purrfect Pals, rescued these five seniors from being euthanized as the other shelter could no longer keep them. Members of the Kitten Cam community raised over three thousand dollars in just a few days to secure medical treatment for these cats.
And now Peaches Chutney (aka “Granny”) has won the kitty jackpot being placed in the home of Foster Dad John. John has a special affection for seniors as several of his own cats fit into this category.
As you can see, cat and human have fallen in love:
Do cats really sleep 16 hours per day?
It’s funny watching the chat that goes along with the live Granny cam: “O! She moved.” “Cute meow!” Obviously not a lot of action from a senior. Cats are reported to sleep some sixteen hours a day. We’re getting a first hand look with Lady Peaches.
Growing mellow with age
Peaches is a cat that I instantly want to scoop up into my arms. Senior cats can be so loving and affectionate. I remember my Noah, standoffish and grouchy most of his life until he hit fifteen; then he turned into a total love. Bacci was a senior I adopted from my late mother’s nursing home and I lost my heart to him the day he tapped me on the arm with his giant mitten paw.
Old is good.
And I love how Foster Dad John’s “Granny cam” brings that point home. This Granny cam is such a wonderful way to promote the idea of adopting senior pets. They have a lot of love to give and want all the love you can give in return.
Old is scary.
Old is good but old is also scary. You take risks getting attached to seniors. They have health problems. They suffer and sometimes they get crabby because they hurt. And they pass away and break the heart you gave so freely to them.
Taking a chance with the heart
Elderly cats. Elderly people. My best friend just turned eighty and I am fifty-nine. Jackie is deep, gentle, loving, funny and empathetic. I can’t imagine my life without her but I know that time will be coming sooner rather than later. I know it’s risky to give my heart away so totally to her but I can’t help it. It’s worth my heart being busted to pieces just so I can be a part of Jackie’s life, even for a short time.