Life is everywhere indwelling and surrounding us, right here, right now, immanently pulsing, permeating, progressing, and present, within you, and within me, as radically close as our next breath yet as prevailing as the winds. You don’t need to look long or hard to find it. Simply pause and take notice.
The psychotherapist Carl Rogers believed one of his primary tasks as a therapist was to notice the impulses towards life innately growing within each of his clients and to help cultivate their unique development. Supporting this transformative work requires creating the right conditions and providing the right care for new life to grow. I might need to till up dry ground, remove stones from the earth, pull up weeds, and prune back dead growth. I will need to ensure what’s growing receives enough water and sunlight to flourish. And I will have to plant new seeds where they have adequate soil and space to develop into full maturity. Properly cultivating new life—whether in my garden or in myself—requires a careful combination of ongoing work, attention, wisdom, patience, and time.
Jesus says, “I have come so that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” Elsewhere in scripture he uses a vivid agricultural metaphor to creatively describe the way we participate in living this abundant life with him and through him. Jesus says:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful… Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
This striking biblical image of living in close and intimate connection to Christ, as branches to a supporting vine, partly portrays the nature of Christian identity. It symbolizes what it means to profoundly identify with the Living Christ and participate with him in continually revitalizing all things. To find one’s identity in Christ—the eternal Son and the world-creating, world-sustaining Logos—means, among many things, to identify one’s most profound and enduring sense of self with the recreative, exploratory, courageous Spirit of Sonship, the Spirit which is always actively at work in the dynamic processes of reordering, reforming, restoring, renewing, reinvigorating, and resurrecting, so all things may continually bear fruit that fulfills their innate purposes. So I identify myself with Christ by becoming a partner and agent of recreation, participating with Christ in the constant renewal of the world.
Learning the art of living involves fully and actively participating in the dynamic unfolding of Life. Indeed, the ultimate call of Life is to risk actively trusting and participating in it, which cannot be fully done from the safe place of a detached observer. The answers to life’s most perplexing and pressing questions will not be found in a fixed set of abstract ideas. My life and your life are not static events or still frame images, but dramatic and dynamic processes continually evolving in us and around us across time and place. Life is a winding river, not a stagnant puddle. Life, properly lived, is more of an active verb than a static noun. It is only when I resist flowing with the movements of Life that my life becomes stuck, stagnant, static.
Likewise, Christian spirituality is less of a commitment to a rigid set of foregone conclusions and more of a voluntary participation in the dynamic processes of abundant living. Christian spirituality is more of a faithful commitment to practicing the transformative mode of being and becoming modelled by Christ, a mode that involves continually deconstructing and reconstructing, dying and rising to ever-greater Life. Following the Spirit of Christ may require voluntarily cutting away deadwood in myself, my personality, my character, my habits, and my traditions—cutting away anything that is preventing Life from becoming every good thing it could possibly be. Partaking in this process can be simultaneously painful and reinvigorating. Indeed, this experience illustrates the paradox of Christ’s teaching that I cannot discover greater Life until I willingly lose the life I now have.