Every day, my husband and I pass several mulberry trees on our morning walk, so it was no surprise when an image of a mulberry tree was the first thing that came to mind when I tried to visualize Καρποφορειν.
In my mind’s eye, the tree was covered with berries in various stages of ripening. Light green fruit, red ones, and fully-ripened purple mulberries were visible all over the tree. I concentrated on the berries at eye-level.
Usually, I’ll reach out and tug on one of the plumper-looking purple berries. If it gives, I’ll pluck it, eat it, and continue on with the walk. In the visualization however, I stood and looked at the tree without touching it or any of its fruit.
As I surveyed the fruit on the tree, a sense of gladness came over me. Gladness because I felt useful. I was the tree; its fruit represented my fruitfulness. The more fruit I had, the more available I was to others, the more I had to offer others.
The fruit was a gift offered to others to meet their needs not mine. My productivity did not lead to personal benefit or spiritual gain. The size of my yield would not be used to determine the size of any heavenly reward that might be coming my way.
The visualization left me with a feeling of purpose without telling me what that purpose was. If the visualization could have identified my purpose, my gift, that would have been helpful. A general feeling of purpose and gladness isn’t much to go on when trying to figure out what to do to be of help to others. I hope my next attempt at prayer visualization will be more successful.
A friend told me that she feels afraid, and her words stayed on my mind. I tried to visualize what fear looks like and what it does to good-soil people.
I imagine what the mulberry tree associated with my friend looks like. The tree seems healthy, full of green leaves and fruit. Unfortunately, an invasive vine has wound its way around the tree trunk and is getting close to one of the lower branches. The vine is a threat; I don’t like it, and I want it gone.
I look at my mulberry tree, get up close to it, and study the ground around the base of the trunk. Sure enough. Little vines are pushing up from the soil and are trying to take root around my tree. How annoying!
I point at a vine and ask, “What fear does this represent?” Your job hunt. I grimace and pull it out of the ground like the weed it is.
“What about this one?” Your retirement account. Pursed lips. Yank.
“And this?” Your family’s health. Scowl. Whack. Rip. Tear.
I want these things gone. All these little worries that are trying to grow up into big anxieties. They need to go. The visualization helped me notice their presence, but it didn’t leave me with the feeling that those fears had been eradicated. I need to be more intentional about including Jesus in the next visualizations.
I ask Jesus to show me if I am adamantly clinging to any false certainties. I look at my tree and notice one barren limb sticking out from the top.
What does that represent?
Your materialism. The culture around you is too materialistic. Because of its influence, you don’t trust that the Kingdom offers a vision of a new economic model.
As I watch, the tree branch snaps off and is cast into a nearby fire.
The image replays over and over as if on a loop-- Tree with one dead limb. Snap. Clean break. Burned.
What causes the break? How does the branch end up in the fire? I don’t see any person or tool pruning the dead limb. It seems to snap, fly through the air, and land in the fire without any assistance.
Because I’m concerned about the political intransigence in the US, I next imagine what the trees of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump look like and search their trees for signs of adamant false certitude.
Hillary’s tree is to the left of mine; the lower third is covered in thick vines.
What does she fear?
She fears what people think of her.
Donald’s tree is to the right of mine. All of its branches are barren, completely devoid of leaves and fruit, except for one branch that is bursting with overly-plump mulberries.
The living branch represents his love for his family.
I really need to work on my attitude towards Mr. Trump.
The branches of the mulberry tree are long and slender, more like those of a weeping willow. They gently sway around me. A breeze must be moving them, but I do not feel a wind.
The leaves lightly brush my face as I stand gazing at the scene before me. Taking in the tree, its fruit, the delicate, rhythmic movement of its limbs.
There is no task for me to perform. I have nothing else to do. Just be here. Soak in my surroundings. Really see it. Be at peace. Be still. I didn’t realize that I needed this quiet time of healing.
I open my eyes. Time to pray with my eyes open, looking out the window in front of me. Birds are flying in and out of the bushes across the street. The sun is still early in its morning climb above the eastern horizon. The light is soft, diffuse.
Whenever I want, anytime I need it, I can go back to my tree, and return to that healing place for refreshment.
My husband and I stand amongst the long, slowly swinging branches of my tree. He needs this time of healing, too. We are holding hands and relaxing as the leaves dapple the sunlight.
It occurs to me that House Speaker Paul Ryan also needs to be healed. His unwillingness to allow a vote on the No Fly, No Buy bill annoyed me. Maybe with healing, his heart will soften and he will be more compassionate.
As soon as he appears next to me, I tense up. I don’t want him here. Even if my side of the gun-control debate would benefit in the end, even if his healing meant he would allow the vote, I want him gone. I confess to Jesus that I can’t stand having Speaker Ryan here. Maybe he could go to someone else’s tree?
No, he’s supposed to stay. I mentally relocate the Speaker so that the tree trunk is between us. The added distance helps, it no longer feels like he is right in my face, but I’m still feeling agitated.
I try to reason with myself. Healing will make him easier to work with, more willing to compromise. But there is a part of me that stubbornly refuses to listen to reason.
I imagine him in a more relaxed, less aggressive position. He stretches out on the grass, on his back, gazing up at the branches, hands behind his head, fingers laced. Nope. Doesn’t work. My mood remains unchanged.
Is it all politicians or just him? I imagine Hillary and Donald amongst the healing branches. Their presence doesn’t faze me. I’ve seen their trees; I know they need to be here. Is that the difference? I haven’t seen Paul’s tree?
I step out from under the branches of my tree and look for Paul’s.
It is towering. I am amazed by its height.
Be that as it may, there’s no fruit on it, and a tree that tall should have some fruit on it.
I glance back at Paul, and decide he can stay. Suddenly, it is important to me that he heal and produce fruit.
Let’s not jump to hasty conclusions. True, the visualizations begin with a vague sense of purpose and end with a healing space being offered to others. Nevertheless, I do not interpret this to mean that I have been given the gift of healing.
I think I would have noticed if I had such a charisma. I would be able to point to people who I had healed. Others would have told me if they believed I had healed them. I don’t have those kinds of examples.
The closest I can come to such evidence is someone recently telling me that I have a calming presence and would have a calming effect on any team I belonged to. I appreciated that observation. If I can have a positive influence on others, then I’ll gladly claim it as a gift. Dialing down the animosity, distrust, resentment, whatever it is that is poisoning relationships and ruffling feathers -- to be able to counter that disruptive agent and leave calm in its place would be a fantastic gift.
However, I do not believe that is the meaning of this visualization. Instead, I discern that the healing power belongs to God, and I’m just a means to an end. I am not healing people or relationships. I trust that God ministers through me, but I do not understand how God uses me, and I have no awareness of it happening.
This interpretation seems consistent with the use of the verb καρποφορέω in Mark 4:28. The verse is part of another sower parable, which is about the coming of the Kingdom of God. In the parable, the transformation of seeds into fruit is called an autonomous (αὐτόματος) process. The sower does not affect or determine the ability of the seeds to germinate and grow. The implication is that the power of καρποφορέω is divine. God will cause the Kingdom to blossom and flourish, just as God will cause Christian to grow and mature in faith.
In the UM tradition, we claim that religious conversations can be means of grace that communicate God’s power. After considering the results of this visualization exercise, I propose adding Non-Anxious Presence to the list of prudential means of grace.
Such a perspective acknowledges that I am not the power source that is fueling another’s transformation from anxious to calm. Rather, I’m a means that God’s grace uses to accomplish that end. The relationship between my actions and God’s grace, the exact interaction and interplay between my efforts and God’s power, where one ends and the other takes over is a differentiation that I am unable to tease out.