- Andrews Amrithraj
Barren Trees: Life is Still Present
It’s winter. Most of the trees, with their beautiful leaves and lovely flowers, appear to have taken a vacation. The gentle dance of the branches in the wind and the leaves fluttering to the ground are no more sights to behold. The tall and majestic trees, devoid of freshness and life, appear to be dead. It was the same sight as I drove past the vineyards in Livermore: dry and lifeless branches ready to be thrown into the fire. As winter passes by there is a sense of gloominess and lifelessness all around me but still there is peace deep within me, because, though there is no life on the outside but the seed of life within is alive, throbbing, and vibrant. It is the seed of life within that will enable the trees to come alive again with fresh leaves and flowers. The external cannot sustain itself without the internal. The external is beautiful to behold but mostly I tend to limit my perception more to the externals and the appearances. Behind visible dryness there is the invisible seed of life. As I was driving back, nature became my spiritual teacher.
As a person, what is of real value in me: the external or the internal? It is the Spirit within me that is of paramount importance and value to me; it is Spirit that gives life. It is the Spirit that holds my body and mind together. Without the Spirit in the body, the body is just a corpse. This does not diminish the value of the body, for it is through the body that I express myself. How true are the words of the Scripture: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own (1 Cor 6:19)?” Body is beautiful, functional, and precious. We need to take care of it, protect it, and use it for what it is meant to be: to enable the Spirit to live and express itself through my body. While we cater to the needs of the body let us not forget that it is the Spirit dwelling in the body that gives life to the body. Without the Spirit the temple is just a building. The challenge for me is: do I live my life mostly on the externals or from within? How much of my attention and time is given to that which is really of utmost value to me? I realize that I am a spiritual being in a physical body and not a physical body having a spiritual soul. What do I need to do to take care of the life in the Spirit? How do I nourish and strengthen my life in the Spirit? The spirit longs for the face of God, wants to be in communion with God, what do I do to satiate the hunger of the Spirit in me? These are questions I cannot avoid if I want to see God.
The same holds for my perception of others. Often I tend to behold and judge others by their externals (the outer beauty, names and forms, material possessions, achievements ...). When was the last time I really looked at and related to a person from the point of the Spirit that is within that person? The other is not just a functional being to be admired, used, and discarded. In the Indian tradition, there is a beautiful gesture of joining both the palms and lowering one’s head to greet the other. The meaning of this gesture is not bowing in reverence and adoration of the other person but it is a sign of respect and honor given to the Spirit within. It is gesture that acknowledges the Sacred within the other; the other person is not just a body or the externals. When was the last time I was genuinely interested in the well-being and development of their life in the Spirit? Do I take it upon myself (to the extent my responsibility permits) to enhance the Spirit in the other? If I am part of a prayer group, am I growing spiritually, is there a continuous transformation taking place within me? Let me not forget that the goal of Jesus’ Table Fellowship, beginning with the needs of the externals (needs of the body and social life), always culminated in leading his listeners to the life in the Spirit.
In the last one year, few people known to me have been diagnosed with cancer; some at initial stages and others at advanced stages. I have known these people for years and to see them suffer now is really painful. I have witnessed and continue to witness the effects of sickness on human bodies and minds. People, who were healthy and strong, just a few months back, are now bedridden and dependent on others for their basic needs. At times I wonder whether it is the same person I am with. The body undergoes rapid changes. When I am with them, I pray with them, sometimes not saying a word but just sitting with them, holding their hands, trying stay with their suffering and pain, and if at all a few words that I sincerely wish arises from compassion. I pray for their healing and surrender their life in God’s hands. As I look at what winter does to trees and plants, something similar happens to our bodies in the winter of our life. While the body begins to shut down I take consolation that the Spirt in my body is alive and vibrant. Sickness can change our bodies but it cannot touch the Spirit. It will never get sick or contaminated. The Spirit is alive when the body is healthy, strong, and beautiful. It is the same Spirit that continues to be alive and vibrant even when the body is haggard and slipping away. There is no need for fear. The Spirit continues to live in and with God.
There is joyful freedom when I choose to live in and by the Spirit. Life in Spirit is a life of joy, peace, and contentment. I don’t deny my life in and through the body and the mind but I need to constantly remember that my identity as a person comes solely from the Spirit that is within me. Memories and experiences will fade away, relationships will come to an end, possessions will come and go, the body in time will get tired, exhausted, sick, and eventually fall away. Everything and everyone will be taken away from me but not the Spirit in me. If I identify myself with the Spirit, then praise or blame, acceptance and rejection, names and forms, labels and categories, jealousy and envy … do not really affect me. Deep in me, I am the image and likeness of God. No one can destroy that truth in me.
To live in the Spirit:
Follow Jesus in his prayer life
Develop a spiritual practice and be disciplined about it
Read and pray the Word of God on a daily basis
When time permits, read the lives of holy men and women
Join a spiritual prayer group
During the day, take few minutes to reconnect yourself with the Spirit
Be mindful of your words and actions. Let them flow from your Spirit