Ruth Woodliff-Stanley

Year A

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Finding Our Way

May 10, 2020

Revised Common Lectionary

Hi Everyone,

Welcome to Paintbox. If you're new to the site, you can learn more by visiting the about page. Each week you'll find links to interdisciplinary lessons followed by my collecting question for the week and then my personal reflection.

In his farewell discourse, Jesus focuses on the importance of our understanding our interconnectedness. Just as nothing grows in isolation, we can only thrive when we are abiding in an inextricable web of relationships with one another. We are rediscovering that web in these days.



Science & Nature

How Does a Seed Grow? Watch the Seed Germination Process

Hort Zone


A beautiful time lapse of seeds germinating into plants.

Notice the various elements that work together to lead to the plants which become our food.

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Current Events & World Affairs

New Zealand’s Prime Minister May Be the Most Effective Leader on the Planet

Uri Friedman

The Atlantic

A video message from the Prime Minister of New Zealand to her people from her home.

Notice the Prime Minister’s style of communication, what she does and does not bring into the message–in terms her use of humility and empathy–and consider how her approach supports her message.

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How is the pandemic impacting your thinking about your independence and your dependence on others?


Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.
–John 14:6a

At our house, like many of you, we’ve begun the growing season. We’e been germinating plants from seeds, mostly of things we had around the house. Seeds of fruits and veggies we’ve been eating, and seeds in packets we’ve had from our gardening efforts in years past. A few days ago, my son invited me to look very closely at a seedling. He noted how the plant pulls up from the soil in a “u” shape as the tiny shoot literally pulls out of the seed, eventually dropping it off as the first leaves triumphantly reach toward the sun. Meanwhile, on the other end, a shoot pushes deeper into the soil, forming the root system of the plant. All of this effort emanates from within the seed, but not without help–from pollen, soil, water, nutrients, and sun. Just as a human body gestates a baby, so the seed gestates a new seedling. The same sexual reproductive process we have is at work in plants.

Life. Pushing through the soil. Preparing to become full and fruit-bearing.

We’ve been talking a lot around our house about the supply chain and our newfound apprecaition of all the interdependent parts that lead to a package arriving at our doorstep. Among the many things COVID-19 is teaching us, I would put a heightened awareness of our interdependence at the top of the list.

I’m offering two lessons this week–one a short video of seeds germinating and the other a window into how the Prime Minister of New Zealand is leading her country in these days. Both reflect to me the importance of relationships to our survival–be those relationship between seeds, soil, water, bees and sunlight or between a mother who leads a nation, her own household, and the people who are inspired across a land to follow her guidance because of her simple, clear ways of connecting to their everyday lives with both wise policy and caring communication.

In today’s gospel, Jesus tells Thomas he goes to prepare a place for us. He tells him that there are many dwelling places in his father’s home. Thomas asks him how we can come there when we do not know the way. Jesus’ response is one of those vastly overworked passages—“I am the way.” Most commonly used to assert a doctrine of Christian exclusivism, this passage is one we have too often ceased to hold with wonder. Those who espouse exclusivism have overdetermined its meaning while most of the rest of us simply avoid the passage whenever possible.

What would it mean to hold this passage again with wonder?

Jesus’ assertion that he is “the way” comes at the beginning of the section of John’s gospel commonly referred to as “the farewell discourse.” The most prominent themes of the section are Jesus’ admonition to his disciples to love one another and his emphasis on our interconnectedness with one another and with God. As he prepares his friends for his departure, he uses a beautiful word we translate "to abide" which has the sense of being held, as if in a lullaby. And he uses the organic image of a vine and her branches. Both speak of irrepresible life, intimacy, and the pervasive interdependence that marks all creation since the beginning of time. Nothing about his message suggests we go it alone. It seems to me one of the most potentially fruitful avenues of exploration in this section of John is to wonder about how we might embrace more fully our interconnectedness.

If we take incarnation seriously, then finding the way has everything to do with abiding in the divine together, understanding that no effort of ours to find paradise or enlightenment or even the more attainable goals of reasonable fulfillment on this earth–none of them are solitary efforts. If there is one thing we learn from our Jewish roots it is that faith is a collective enterprise. While there is value in individual spiritual practice, at the most fundamental level we are inextricably bound to one another.

Finding the way–finding our way again–begins with a humble acknowledgment that rugged individualism never was a thing. It was always an illusion. Try to make it in these days without your reliance on other people; it can’t be done. Every step we take is on roads or floors that someone built. Every morsel we eat was grown by someone–and if grown by us, then someone got the seed to us, or the soil, or the water. And it’s not just humans we need, either; it’s the bees, the plants, the worms, the air, the sun. All creation conspires for our good.

If we are to find our way into life beyond this pandemic, the truth is, we will do it together. And we will find out, perhaps for the first time, just how deep the roots of this fundamental truth must reach to support our fragile, beautiful lives.