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Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Bell Pepper Parable

My daughter asked for a vacuum cleaner for her twentieth birthday. I wish I'd had a mirror to catch my expression, because I don't know what "are you serious-yeah, I guess you are-and I must have done something right because you just asked for a vacuum cleaner" looks like in a split second flicker across my face. Well it's spring, and strange things happen in the spring. Like blushing strawberries, and a single potted petunia that survived winter at poolside, and lettuce that hunkered down in the greenhouse and grew when ice storms hammered. I ducked into the greenhouse and cut off a head of lettuce right at the base for homegrown salad, in February.

Well, it's not February anymore. The vegetable bed which technically is a fruit bed, is becoming a birthing bed for the bell peppers and they come straight out honest from the open center of the white flower just so unpretentious and unapologetic that I may have turned the shade of the strawberries when I checked their progress this morning. If I had a cloth I'd have draped it there full-length modesty. The tomatoes in the neighboring bed go about the birthing with a decorum befitting the gentler plant as a whole.

In due time, I'll slice in half the bell peppers and white seeds will be clumped at the top of their hollow. The tomato seeds will be enmeshed in fruit flesh tomato red. Too bad I didn't plant yellow zucchini or blackberries, I think as "Jesus Loves the Little Children" song from childhood comes to mind. Only I change the lyrics. "Red and yellow, green and black; they are growing in my life; Jesus loves the little children of the world!" It sort of rhymes if sung with a bit a drawl.


The Holy Spirit produces fruit. Truthfully, I'm glad it's fruit. I'm glad He doesn't produce vegetables because I'm sure I'd look a little less cheerful somehow if holy peace was long tuberous parsnip root with pale skin and, let's face it, broccoli and beets are acquired tastes. I don't once recall my children asking to snack on a beet. Besides, there aren't any seeds hidden inside vegetables or seeds covering the outside, berry style. And, yeah, berries are fruit. I checked.

Fruit is marked by the seeds.

The seed is hidden in the fruit, unless it's a strawberry berry in which case the seed is firmly attached, and that's close enough.

The life is hidden in the seed, and the fruit is produced.

Jesus, formed in Mary, came from holy seed. "Joseph, about Mary," I can almost hear the angel of the Lord clear his throat. "Uh, that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; and she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus."

I make the distinction between reproduction and produce because I've always heard that we've been given the fruit of the Spirit, but there's a difference between the life of Christ being formed, reproduced, in me and the fruit of the Spirit being produced in my life. But here it plain as the ink on the page, "The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love , joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" (Galatians 5:22).

I have a bell pepper to slice. Knife in hand, I wonder, "How many bell peppers have I sliced in my life?" and "How many times have I read about the fruit of the Spirit?" I could dice up bell peppers with my eyes closed and recite Galatians 5:22 in my sleep.

I halve the pepper. The two halves roll open, expose hollow bellies and something else. There's a pepper growing inside the pepper. Right here on my cutting board. It's "a seed must die and be buried if it's to produce more life" John 12:24 truth. And the truth is that Christ died, was buried, and was raised up to produce more seed-bearers.

I learn the botanical term for a pepper growing in a pepper. It's called, "internal proliferation." The botanists don't know how it happens.

Internal proliferation. "That's it!" I wave my knife around. "Internal proliferation! External produce!" I gasp at the pepper in the pepper, "And no botanist can figure you out."

God overhears. "Ahem." Rats. He caught me talking to a bell pepper. "I, can figure it out."

I take the hint and speak to Him. "How? How'd it get there?"

"I labored in the throes of death, the grave, to resurrect you," He begins to tell the story. It's a bell pepper parable. "I died, a seed. I was buried in the ground and labored for life there. I was raised not to save My life, but yours."

More truth. "Truth is," I hold the knife steady and start again; "Truth is that what I've heard so many times,"  I take a breath and lower the knife, "that You died for me so that I don't have to die," I rest my forearms on the kitchen counter, "isn't true. Truth is, You died and so did I. You died for my sins and I am dead to sin; You are resurrected, and I am alive to You." It's Romans chapter six truth. "And," I puzzle the miraculous that no botanist but the Creator of all botanical and spiritual understands, "You are in me." It's just all pepper in a pepper miracle.

I'm filled with seeds, and with a life that is all mysterious. The life of Christ is being reproduced in me, and I have my life in Him and, I have a term for what I don't really understand. Internal proliferation. I may not understand it, but neither do the botanists, and it's good enough for me to see it just as true and real as this bell pepper on my kitchen cutting board.

Internal proliferation. What happened in Mary long ago, happens now and it's called Holy Spirit spiritual conception. That which is conceived in me is of the Holy Spirit, and it's the life of Jesus. His life is being formed, reproduced, in me. And somehow the apostle Paul, and others, labor in "the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed" in me; (Galatians 4:19).

"I have covered you with My garments of salvation and with My robe of righteousness," He speaks delicately and I know what He's saying.

"I adorn myself with jewels as a bride adorns herself," I respond. We're having an intimate conversation from Isaiah 61:10-11 that maybe He's been waiting to have.

"As the earth brings forth it's bud," He speaks.

The back doors stand open and I step outside. I look around me at all things spring and the thoughts in my heart blossom through petal-like lips, "I praise You. Lord! You fill my hollow and Your fruit fills my life. I praise You, Lord! Four children filled my hollow and life is pepper in pepper mystery." Somehow the mystery is freeing.

I feel it. The mystery. The relief in the mystery. The release, too. Something is felt as release in this quiet realization that the produce of the Spirit is somehow just there; just in my life. That the presentation of the produce of the Spirit isn't for me to present in my life. Maybe this sounds kind of irresponsible, but the word says, "But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives" (Galatians 5:22).

It's done already. By the Spirit.

Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are in my life as produce of the Holy Spirit. Whether or not I choose to live according to what is there, the fact that the fruit is there doesn't change as if what I do has power over what He's done. And the One in whom all holy abounds, lives in me; and I am enlarged by Him.


"Thank You."

There's a cluster of bell pepper seeds in the sink. I close my eyes, and see pepper in pepper, a kind of spotty afterimage. I think about God's words and, well, "There's a stem." I know. Obviously. But probably everything that feels like a paradigm shift to me right now is mere bell-pepper plain as the spiritual grocery list to others. But. There's a stem. And the peppers are attached by the stem. And, "Ha!" I point out to the Lord, "The stem's the cord!"

"Ha!" He echos my enthusiasm so gracious kind.

Encouraged, I continue. "It reminds of the three-strand cord You mention. You know, the one that's not easily broken?"

He nods, "Yeah, I know the one. It's pretty tough."

"It's attached." I'm nodding and thinking of the toughest cord I've ever had. "It's attached, belly to belly, life to life; and it's two arteries and a vein three-stranded cord!" This cord nourished the fruit of my womb.

This cord was cut when the fruit was produced into my life.

And then milk flowed. The nourishment of the fruit of my womb, produced into my life, depended on my milk to grow strong, and that depended on what I took in. Something spiritual here, I'm thinking.

I read, "In one Spirit you were baptized, received into one body, and made to drink of one Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:13); and I'm pushing through till I get this Bell Pepper Parable. "You are being formed in me and I am drinking of Your Spirit. I'll drink of Your Spirit alone."

I don't know how it all works any more than the bell pepper in the vegetable bed understands anything at all, but what is produced holy in my life is what He, not I, produces. Is it enough that I drink of the Spirit, spiritually expectant that He will produce the fruit in my life? I hope so.

Shouldn't there be freedom felt in getting straight just what is being formed and what is produced? What's inner and what's outer?

And isn't the fruit of the Spirit produced in my life because the Life of the Spirit is being formed in me?

And what about a life filled with the produce of the Spirit? Filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? If it's the real authentic kind of "You are in Me, and I am in You, and may they be in Us" homegrown fruit raised in the soil of Christ's longing then, yeah, authentic real freedom will be felt because there ain't no law against pepper in pepper mystery.

"How do I know, God, if what's produced in my life is authentic?" I really want it to be.

"Don't you have a salad to make?" He nods at the bell pepper on the cutting board.

"Yeah," I separate the seeds from the hollow. "What do I do with the pepper in the pepper?"

"Eat it."


I pick up the knife and start slicing.

"You know, the joy, is real," He says, to the rhythmic, slice of, the knife, "when it's, cut through, and peace, is there."

I keep slicing.

"And you know the peace is real when it's split open and self-control is there," He's clustering the fruit for me because I can see the seeds clustered that I pulled from the pepper and tossed in the sink. It helps me to understand what He's saying when I glance at the cluster of seeds. It's part of the bell pepper parable.

I'm getting into the rhythm of what He's saying. "I know the patience is real when it's halved and raw, and there's kindness there."

"Yeah, He nods as I slice.

I finish slicing and reach for the salad bowl. He leans in, "You know it's real," He says low, "when it's sliced and tossed and love is there."

Love is the first fruit. Love is raised in the soil of Christ's longing.  Love is the hidden intimacy, the delicate "You are in Me and I am in You and I pray that they may be in Us."

I place the peppers in circular pattern on top of the salad. "They're smiling!"

It's what sliced bell peppers do.

I smile at God.

written by: Carolyn-Elizabeth Roehrig

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