An Examination of Potbound Plants and Faith

Something many of us may have long suspected about plants growth being restricted by small plant pots has now been elegantly confirmed by scientists in some neat experiments using MRI scans.

The BBC report is here.

I can't help wondering if there are some useful analogies we could apply from this, to consider the ways our own individual faith and institutional religion portray our limited ideas about God and often don't allow or stifle potentiality and growth in our spiritual lives !! 

There are too many people for whom their experience of faith has been so bad or inadequate that they seem to be held in some sort of an emotional jail.

It's interesting too that the evidence of growth in these constrained plants is always on the periphery of the container.

So often our spiritual roots end up being stunted and deformed,  and we recognise and identify those times, events and encounters in our lives that make us "potbound", pale, etiolated imitations of what God intends us to be.

Image source

I can't imagine what the exact nature of an equivalent spiritual tool  to the MRI scan might be but it's interesting to speculate.

Even though the appearances up top may display a reasonably adequate superficial growth the state of our roots may be distinctly otherwise!

Our pots are opaque and not often transparent to ourselves or others and it is both reassuring and scary to acknowledge that God can see right through us at all times.

But the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius are pretty useful tools of discernment to examine how stunted or expansive our spiritual roots are at any one moment and what factors might hinder or help them grow.

This week saw the feast of St Iraneus and this extract from an article on his life by the Taize Community, boldly emphasises the expansive image of life that is often diminished and distorted by our lack of belief in the power of God to act in our lives.

"Irenaeus wrote one very remarkable phrase, which is often quoted:
( allowances for gender limitations here)  “Life in man is the glory of God; the life of man is the vision of God.” 

Another translation says: “The glory of God is a living man; and the life of man consists in beholding God”

and a modern translation : "The glory of God is a human being fully alive."

At the very heart of his faith was a conviction that the unseen, unknowable God who had created everything so loved humanity that he had become a human being just like us. 

By becoming the human being Jesus, God wanted to share with every human person his own, eternal life in such a way that our fragile, contradictory human nature would not be overwhelmed or crushed, but fulfilled utterly. 

All that we are was designed from the beginning for a fullness beyond anything we could imagine, in and by communion with God."

This week also saw the celebration of the two "Super-Saints" Peter and Paul, whose spiritual zeal although shaky at times, allowed the church to grow from small and 
unimpressive beginnings to a worldwide community.

One of my favourite quotes from St Paul is this one from his letter to the Ephesians: 

"May you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is.  

May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. 

Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God."

 and this one from St John :

 I have come to give you life, and life in all its fullness.”

The challenge to myself and all of us in this year of New Evangelisation and the celebration of 50 years since Vatican II is to examine the containers for our faith. They have been broken many times as they should be so that they can be mended and enlarged !

The containers are not only our churches but anyone we meet in our lives that can enter our hearts and be nurtured with an outpouring of the greatest fertiliser this planet will ever have: - the love of God in action, via the chalice of Christ's own blood which contains this message that : This is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant, which is shed for you and for ALL ( yes, all,) so that sins may be forgiven"

My personal imaginings on "pot boundedness "lead me to thoughts of the future church as being more like a container that accomodates some plants with aerial roots but I know that there are some who would solve the problem of being potbound, by pruning so excessively that the image appears more like some sort of bonsai like church.

-  Mmm, however beautiful they look,  they always seem a little too artificial for me. I googled bonsai church and found this article, unsurprisingly from Japan (!), but yes, it's great to see I'm not completely off the wall !

 More reflections on pot bound faith here

And lo and behold there is even a book called The Bonsai Theory of Church Growth.

So some small initial thoughts on pot bound growth has already burgeoned into something that has already outgrown itself.  Wonderful- I feel a second posting on this topic could be fruitful. :-))

You can also read my previous post on the Baobab Tree and Faith ( the baobab tree is the upside-down tree with it's roots in the air), from here.

Image baobab tree

One beautiful enigma of our faith is the paradoxical gift Christ left us before he was crucified; that His cup is never empty, that the truth He offers us is lucidly transparent, yet enigmatically hidden. It asks us to recognise that the power of faith can lead us from opacity to a vessel that is transcendent and never too small for as many people who come to share and drink from it that the planet will ever hold.
 If I am graced to drink from it, then Lord, please make me able in my own life to share some of Your saving grace and Your love with others I encounter, especially the ones I find most difficult.

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