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. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.
John 15: 4-5
About a month ago, two friends and I made the five hour drive to Lebh Shomea, the House of Prayer on the Kennedy Ranch near Kingsville. I had never been to this contemplative retreat center where silence is the rule of the day. But when the opportunity arose to accompany my friends, I jumped at the chance. I had just finished writing and defending my doctoral project, and the idea of being immersed in silence sounded enticing.
Upon arriving at Lebh Shomea, I took a walk on one of the trails to the “Cowboy Cemetery” where the cowboys who worked the cattle on the ranch were buried. Many of their graves are unmarked, and others have makeshift tombstones. Amidst these I noticed several more modern looking granite headstones, each engraved with the verse from John 15: “Remain in my love.” I did not at first recognize the verse, because we are used to seeing it translated as “Abide in my love.” Yet, there in that silent and peaceful place the words captured my attention. I cannot think of a more appropriate verse for a final resting place.
The next day when meeting with Fr. Kelly Nemeck, I asked him about the granite tombstones with the verse from John’s Gospel on them. He told me that they were the graves of individuals who had spent much time at Lebh Shomea and had asked to be buried there. It occurred to me then that the verse summed up the very purpose of this contemplative house of prayer: to be quiet and still enough that the love we live in all the time becomes palpable to us. Surrounded by the silent prayers of all in this community, I came to realize that the very silence itself is our prayer– the unceasing prayer spoken of by St. Paul.
As so often happens on retreats, it was not until I had been back for a week or so that the impact of my experience began to emerge. I found the verse, “Remain in my love” did in fact remain with me. I went to my Bible and looked it up. The New Revised Standard Version translates “remain” as “abide” – “Abide in my love.” Upon reading the whole chapter I was newly struck by the mystical quality of the verses quoted above.
They point to the non dual nature of reality: “Abide in me as I abide in you.” We are not separate from the Love of God–ever. Webster’s says that abide means “to remain stable, to continue in a place.” To remain is to “stay in the same place, to continue unchanged.” So, we are not entering into Love because we have never left it. We are love. We are in love and love is in us. Jesus says ,”apart from me you can do nothing.” I understand this to mean that apart from the sustaining love of all sentient beings – I can do nothing. Just as the branch that is severed from the vine withers and dies so can our souls when we are lost in the illusion that we are separate and independent beings.
My time at Lebh Shomea (which means listening heart) has increased my awareness of the finely woven net of love that sustains my every breath. In my more lucid moments I realize how intimately connected all of life is and that not even the simplest accomplishments of my life could ever have been achieved without the myriad acts of service and kindness of those closest to me, but also of those whom I have never seen and will never meet. Still, they remain in my love and I in theirs, and so the world moves forward.