4-29-15 - Abiding

“Abiding” is not a word we use these days in the sense in which it is used in the Bible. I cannot think of a usage outside of church literature in which it appears. Which is a pity – it’s a good word! Much richer than its nearest contemporary equivalent, “hanging out with.”

I did no etymological research on it, but a quick Google search reminded me that we do use the word – in the sense of something we comply with, or can barely tolerate (“I can’t abide that color”; “I will abide by the ruling.”) But the meaning in this week’s gospel passage is nothing like that. It means to dwell with over time. There must be a connection between “abide” and “bide,” as in, to “bide ones time.” Abiding suggests resting with deeply, not rushing away. Oh! Maybe that’s why we don’t use it these days – we do so little “resting with deeply,” “ staying quietly with.”

Jesus used the term that our forebears translated as “abide” quite a bit, especially in these farewell remarks captured in John’s Gospel. He uses it as a verb and as an imperative:
“Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches.”

This image conveys an even stronger notion of connectedness. To abide as a fruit abides in the vine suggests that it both comes from and is connected with the vine, so connected it would take some force to part one from the other. This is not to undermine distinction and independence. It is a connection intended for greater fruitfulness: “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”

How do we abide with Jesus and let him abide in us? We hang out with him in prayer and conversation and praise and worship. We recover our awareness of how we are connected to him, despite the efforts of the world and its messages, and the pressures of our lives to shake us loose. It is easy to feel disconnected from God except in those times when we consciously return. How would it be to carry that felt connection around with us daily?

That, I think, happens when we live into the second part – letting Jesus abide in us. We are promised that Jesus lives in us through baptism, a connection that is renewed at eucharist, through the Word, through prayer and service. So one way we abide with him and he in us is to make more space for him. Don’t toss him in a back room, just stopping by to visit when you’re feeling sad or stressed. Give him a seat at the table, when you’re doing dishes, paying bills, going to sleep. Don’t relegate him to a few moments here and there; make some time to nurture your connection.

Some monastics have practiced a form of constant prayer called “hesychasm,” the prayer of the heart, which trains one to pray with each breath, in and out, so that practitioners pray without ceasing. Whether we adopt that practice, or set alerts on our phones, or set aside times and places to rest deeply with Jesus, he promises us a more fruitful life through that connection.

And we can be sure HE is abiding with us. Even when we’re not paying attention.

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