Learning from Jasmine

By the Rev. Daniel Joslyn-Siemiatkoski

Along the front of my yard runs a fence made of wood posts and mesh wire. When I first moved in, I planted jasmine all along the fence to both create some privacy and for the beautiful scents of the jasmine blossoms. I loved watching the progression of those growing jasmine vines and tending to them as part of my yard work.

There is something meditative about tending vines. I would train the vines to run along the fencing wire, guiding vines to fill in bare batches, and untangling unwieldy bunchings. Often as my mind wandered while doing this work I would reflect on Jesus’s teaching on vines and the tender of vines. He taught “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me (John 15:1-4).”

The image of Jesus as a vine and his disciples who abide in him is one that resonates with me deeply. As I tended my own vines, I saw the intricate relationships between the central vines and the runners that shot sprang out from it along the fence. But there is also a part of me that recoils at the depiction of branches from the vine that are pruned: “Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned” (John 15:6). That there are branches that are pruned away from the true vine that desires to bear much fruit in his followers always puzzled and saddened me.

But now for two winters in a row, a deep freeze has killed all the jasmine vines growing on my fence. For two springs in a row I have spent a day cutting away all the dead vines all the way down to the root. Instead of a fire I have thrown these useless vines into my green waste bin. Either way, they had to be removed because they could no longer bear fruit. The only way to restore to the fence green vines and white flowers was to cut away all that was dead.

When I was trimming the base of the jasmine vines this time, I noticed that little green shoots were already pushing up out of the earth. New vines were on their way. These vines desired to abide, to grow and persist in this place because that was where they were planted. The desire to bear good fruit and to flourish is what ensured that they would abide.

These jasmine vines have been a teacher to me over the past year. Enduring a pandemic and freak weather that is both part of a new normal and still is deeply unpredictable has taught me something about abiding. There are moments when all that seems to have been flourishing and thriving in my life withers up. In order to return to a healthy pattern of flourishing I need to pare back, to recognize what opportunities have been lost or what potential has been ceased. It is only by acknowledging this and setting aside those things that I have lost that I can turn back to the work of abiding in the work I have been called to. I do this, trusting that after the dead vines have been pruned, a new green shoot of life will emerge.

Reflection questions

What are some of the things in your life that you have seen wither and that you have set aside?

Where are the green shoots of life appearing for you now?

This spring, Sowing Holy Questions explores creating what is next, the new normal, grieving for what we cannot return to, and being “beside ourselves.”

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