The seven men at our little retreat have scattered, at my instruction, to try their own version of an 8:18 walk. I have brought two of them with me. Dean is an energetic business exec from Minneapolis. Mike is a sharp-minded mathematician and inventor from South Carolina.
Both are deeply spiritual. And both are game for this experiment.
We start down the path in the wetland area we chose from a short list of nearby parks, here in Vermont. I suggest that we keep our conversation keyed into what we notice around us. It was an unnecessary instruction: they’re both keenly observant.
Right away, Dean notices the brilliant red stalks of these white berries. I wonder aloud about how often there is remarkable beauty in the final stages of nature’s yearly cycle. All around us are plants going to seed, putting out final fruits.
Mike, stopping to look at rocks underfoot, observes, “Dying has a purpose. It’s all about transformation – even these rocks are a product of a process.” He adds, “It’s like that verse, “Unless a seed falls to the ground and dies…”
Yet, there is such loveliness in that process of dying. When we stop a little later by some still water, light catches the furry seeds of this plant, lighting them up like white wigs. Leaves, in a tumble of colors, carpet the path through the woods. There are berries of deep reds and purples.
Even the dried seed heads of long stalks of grass, caught in the slanting sunlight, have a splendor of detail.
Then, surprisingly, we come across an apple tree, laden with ripe fruit. It’s a remarkable sight. Seeing edible fruit after all these potentially poisonous berries immediately sparks a thought.
What kind of fruit will I produce in my remaining years?
All seven of us on this retreat are either in or past middle age. Mortality is never far from our thoughts. What will our fruit be in the time we have left? I share my concern with Dean and Mike about what will be revealed in my personality as I approach old age, as comforts and filters are stripped away.
Will I be pleasant, a blessing? Or will I be disagreeable, even toxic?
Jesus’s words in John 15:16 comfort me:
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.
Jesus reminds me that it is his plan that I bear fruit. And that the fruit would last. We know that what our lives produce will be wholesome and pleasing because it is the product of the vine (15:5) and not of the stem. My job is to remain in him. It’s his purpose and plan to produce the fruit in my life.
Coming back together, everyone shares his lessons learned from the outing. The stories are varied, but all are enthusiastic. Sincere. Profound.
I am relieved and happy. The grand experiment worked!
This, I happily realize, is one of the fruits Jesus is producing through me.
How d'you like them apples?
How kind you are, Lord, to make us the branches through which you grow fruit. Regardless of where we are in life, make us producers of beautiful things – blessings that nourish the world around us.
Reader – What fruit have you noticed in your life? Tell me about it!