It is said that St Frances, when a young man, was injured in war and spent some time as an invalid confined to bed. Francis took to reading romantic stories where the characters all lived happily ever after.
He alternated these stories with reading about the lives of the saints.
After a while he noticed that the romantic stories, which he enjoyed so much at the beginning, left him feeling sad and full of despair. The stories of the saints, although not so enjoyable, had the longer term effect of making him feel happy and full of life.
What he did next ran completely against the values attached to being happy. Francis gave away everything he had – all his money, clothes and possessions. He lived the rest of his life in complete poverty, often begging for food. His life was not always easy, but, as a person, Francis is said to have been full of joy, laughter and happiness.
This story fits well with Jesus’ parable of the vine with its branches and fruit, and the vine grower or gardener with his secateurs.
It’s a question of what we allow to run through our ‘veins’ – what our ‘sap’ is. The nature of our ‘sap’ depends on what we are attached to. If we are attached to wealth, perfection, status, possessions, glamour and power – then that is what will run through our veins.
It is easy for us to become entranced by things that offer immediate pleasure ignoring the hollowness which follows in the end. There is a human tendency to go for short term rewards while ignoring the long term implications.
This is God’s world, created by God and which God still sustains. We as Christians live in it and enjoy its riches and beauty. So, it isn’t turning our backs on the world which enables us – the branches – to have the sap of God’s spirit coursing through us. It is rather about what we give priority to in our lives – literally, what ‘we are attached to’ and consequently what ‘sap’ flows through us.
If we are grafted or joined to the right plant – Jesus – then the Spirit of God begins to flow through us. We are not perfect, – vines are knobbly, gnarled things, but we should bear the Spirit’s fruit of love and gentleness and peace. These are our ‘grapes’.
We’ve all heard of the expression ‘sour grapes’. If we are fixated on the short term and shallow things in life and their ‘sap’ flows through us, then we can produce the ‘sour grapes’ of jealousy, hatred and bitterness.
If we detect these fruits in our lives, we need to be hard on ourselves and ask for God’s help to rid ourselves of them. This is often a painful process – pruning hurts!
Just stopping to think about what gives us true and abiding joy and what makes us sad and unfulfilled is a good thing to do sometimes; taking stock of our lives and asking God’s help in correcting things which have taken a hold of us in ways we’ve never stopped to consider.
This is repentance. God promises his love, forgiveness and hope as we start again.
Rev’d Dr Anne Morris
Vicar of St. Oswald’s Church Knuzden