I had a conversation with my doctor yesterday about the results of some recent, routine "blood tests." In the course of our conversation I became very aware of just how much a few things like cholesterol in the blood can tell about either how healthy or how unhealthy someone is. I also realized that doctors perform these tests because they are looking for symptoms of something they are otherwise unable to see with the eye. After all, what does "good health" look like or what does sickness look like? All a doctor can do is look for manifestations and symptoms in order to detect and diagnose an underlying, inner condition.
I have been thinking about my conversation with the doctor, and it seems to me that, just as a physician looks for symptoms of health or manifestations of disease in the body, so can all of us look for symptoms of the health or ill-health in our own inner life. You can never look into the inner reaches of someone's soul but that deeper spirit does certainly manifest itself in the way a person lives his or her life.
In the Christian Gospels Jesus advises his disciples about how to recognize the state of a person's spiritual health:
You will know them by their fruits.
Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes or figs from thistles, are they?
So every good tree bears good fruit but the bad tree bears bad fruits.
Taking Jesus' teaching a step further, Saint Paul goes on to actually make a list of the kinds of fruit the good tree bears on the spiritual path:
The fruits of the spirit are:
love, joy, kindness, faithfulness, generosity.
As I think about it, every one of our lives bears some kind of fruit - joy and love or cruelty and crankiness. Obviously all of us have bad days from time to time, but if a person's life regularly manifests the bitter fruits of anger, selfishness, revenge and retribution, it seems to me that these are symptoms of a deeper issue - an unhealthy, withered spirit, a person not fully alive
Over the course of my life I have known many upstanding "religious people" who haven't exactly been bearers of good fruit in their everyday lives. They would go to church every Sunday (and then some), say prayers every day, serve as members of numerous church committees; and yet, they were always pretty miserable and joyless - prone to gossip, angry and judgmental.
Then again I've known many other people, like one of my professors in grad school, who was an avowed agnostic and wouldn't set foot in a church; yet, he was probably one of the kindest, most considerate and generous persons I have ever known in my life - full of joy and laughter, you just wanted to be around him.
You will know them by their fruits
The fruit trees around my house out in the desert are all coming into bloom - oranges and grapefruits, pomegranates and figs, all bearing lush, rich fruit, a delight to my eyes and even better to my taste. I look at them and I am reminded that I can sit in my garden and meditate for hours, or I can read the bible or pour over spiritual texts and say prayers every day, but if my life has no joy and if I treat others with disrespect, impatience and intolerance, I probably need some kind of course correction on the spiritual path - I need to bear some better fruit.
It seems to me that you certainly don't need to be a religious believer to look at the kind of fruit you are bearing in your life and see how healthy you really are.
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