There’s a transformation taking place in my back yard right now. Our giant octopus agave is sprouting a “bloom spike.” This stalk, which is already about 4 inches thick and very sturdy, will grow to a height of 10–12 feet, produce numerous blossoms that will become tiny little octopus agaves—and then the entire plant will die, leaving those baby plantlets to fend for themselves.
When I think of plants bearing fruit, I tend to think of peach and apple trees, which flower and fruit every season for decades before they eventually grow old and die. Agaves, however, put all their energy into one spectacular bloom and then die off, exhausted by the process.
We also have aloes in our yard, preparing to bloom. These may look similar to agaves, but they are quite different in some critical respects. Aloes are native to sub-Saharan Africa and the Saudi Arabian Peninsula, while agaves originated here in the Desert Southwest and Mexico. While agaves bloom once and then die, aloes bloom yearly and form “pups,” or small plantlets that appear around the edges of the outer leaves, like pups peeking out from under a mother dog’s legs. This allows aloes to reproduce without killing themselves in the process.
As I think about the season of Lent, and of the call to spiritual transformation, these plants teach me that there are different levels of transformational commitment. Some fruit is cyclical, like the fruit of the peach and apple trees. Birds peck at the numerous fruits, bees follow behind once the skin is pierced, we humans savor what is left and perhaps plant a few of the seeds, while the tree stands tall to begin the process again. Other fruit is sacrificial, like the fruit of the agave. This plant invests everything into sending a stalk high into the air, laden with miniature versions of its very self, and sends them off into the wide world with its blessing.
Our lives can also be either cyclical or sacrificial. Most of us are called to the cyclical bearing of fruit, whether the literal fruit of our bodies or the more figurative fruit of our paid or volunteer work and ministries, our kind or cruel words, artistic endeavors, books written, lessons taught, wisdom shared…. A few of us, however, might be called to bear sacrificial fruit. I think of the brave souls who fight our nation’s wars and wildfires, or the people who volunteered, decades ago, to be the first human test cases for new vaccines. It’s the commitment, you see. Regardless of whether those humans ended up dying, their full commitment to the possibility is the same as that of the agave. Their deaths might not be definitive, but their commitment had to be.
Jesus made that level of commitment. Born as a human, he embraced the calling to bear sacrificial fruit—though his night of agony in the Garden of Gethsemane proves to us all that the commitment is not free of second thoughts, fears, and painful anticipation.
As you ponder your Lenten journey, what level of commitment are you willing to make? What transformations are taking shape in you in this season? What fruits are you called to be bearing?