"Bearing Much Fruit"
- At the Desert Retreat House -
I recently had a conversation with my doctor regarding the results of some recent, routine “blood tests” and he told me that I was “healthy.” The conversation caused me to reflect upon the symptoms a physician uses as indicators of good health: cholesterol, sugar levels, blood pressure, body weight, etc. These outward, measurable signs are considered to be manifestations of an overall condition that is described as “health.”
The more I think about it, there are also a number of outward symptoms that can point to how “spiritually healthy” any one of us might be. Obviously, none of us can look into the inner reaches of a person’s soul but it also seems to me that the health or illness of our spirit will always manifest itself in the way a person lives in the ordinary circumstances of everyday life.
I imagine that some people may look to how well or how often one engages in spiritual disciplines as indicators of health: praying, going to church, daily meditation may indeed be symptoms pointing to a person’s spiritual health. On the other hand, I know people who are very devout in their practice of religion who aren’t all that healthy when it comes to the spiritual life. They suffer from an inner loneliness and isolation, they are bitter, angry and judgmental.
In the Christian Gospels, Jesus tells his disciples that they are to lead lives that bear “good fruit. ” He taught that “good fruits” are the outward actions done for the welfare of others. An abundance of good fruit is symptomatic of good health:
I am the vine, you the branches
If you abide in me, you will bear much fruit.
In one of his epistles, Saint Paul goes on to articulate what this “good fruit” actually looks like:
The fruits of the spirit are
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,
goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control
As I see it, these “fruits of the spirit” are best understood as verbs and not nouns—visible actions rather than internal states. Love, kindness, and gentleness go beyond tender feelings, they are observable acts of compassion done to promote the welfare of other human beings. In a similar fashion, joy is more than feeling happy, joy is something you do to make someone else happy and we demonstrate patience, faithfulness and self control when we refuse to throw others away (even people who we may not like all that much, even when others may do harm to us.)
As I think about the state of my own spiritual health, I want to go beyond examining how well or how often I pray or meditate or go to church and I want to do more than getting in touch with my feelings. I’d much rather look at the spiritual fruit my everyday life produces.
When I look at the everyday acts of my everyday life, I ask myself “how well and how often do I persevere in embracing others with gentleness and compassion (even different or annoying others)? The results of this observation will help me to determine how “healthy” I am and motivate me to produce even better fruit.
It seems to me that you certainly don’t need to be a Christian or a religious believer to look at the kind of fruit you produce in your life in order to see how spiritually healthy you are.