Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Strawberries and Habits

"The strawberry in medieval art was seen, because of its many seeds, as a symbol of the fruitfulness of good works. Just as the generous seeds of a strawberry cannot be counted easily, so too would be the generous acts of the fruitful Christian."   Father James M Sullivan, OP, in July 2014 Magnificat.  
This struck me today in my morning devotional reading, partly because we have a lot of strawberries in our house right now and I just cut up and froze a batch of them for future smoothies for the kids .  I looked it up online, but typing in "strawberry medieval art" brought up some weird results.    I did find this Signs and Symbols site which looks traditional and solid -- it has this to say:

The strawberry is the symbol of perfect righteousness, or the emblem of the righteous man whose fruits are good works. When shown with other fruits and flowers, it represents the good works of the righteous or the fruits of the Holy Spirit. It is in line with this meaning that the Virgin is sometimes shown clad in a dress decorated with clusters of strawberries because is the Spouse of the Holy Spirit. The strawberry is occasionally shown accompanied by violets to suggest that the truly spiritual are always humble.

One of the reasons that this struck me besides our present abundance of them, was that I have been reading a lot of books about habits.  

In The Power of Habits, Charles Duhigg talks about keystone habits, which can set up chain reactions that can make a huge difference even on a wide level.   A couple of other books I am reading, Mini-Habits and Habit Stacking, build on this idea that even very small changes can add up to a real shift in momentum.   The idea of the strawberry with all its small seeds in the devotional seemed to me to correspond to the idea of keystone or mini-habits and their power.  

This article talks about 3 keystone habits that Jesus set, customarily remembered during the readings of early Lent.    This article talks about keystone habits in evangelism and catechesis.    When I think about it, many papal exhortations, not to mention the pastor's homilies at weekly mass, contain some take-away message or advice that could add up to one of the small seeds on a strawberry's surface -- that is, if you took it seriously and tried to apply it during the week, just one or two could be a life-changer.

(I tend to forget what the homily was about the moment it is over, I admit in shame -- I don't do well remembering things I've heard especially in a crowd of people -- too many distractions).

I think perhaps the resolutions we are supposed to formulate at the end of mental prayer add up to cultivating the symbolic seeds on the surface of the strawberry, as well.   This article How to Practice Mental Prayer says of resolutions:

before concluding the meditation, we should make some specified good resolution, appropriate as far as possible to the subject of our meditation. This resolution should be directed to the shunning of some sin, or of some occasion of sin, to the correction of some defect, or to the practice of some act of virtue during the day.
I always have trouble making resolutions that correspond with the topic of my prayers, but perhaps thinking of them as small but key habits -- even mini-habits , which are modest and doable but open the door to bigger things --  would be a good start.

As far as specifics go, recently canonized Pope John XXIII has a daily decalogue which adds up to a sort of litany of mini-habits.     They could be thought of as a few seeds on the strawberry which with the increase provided by the Holy Spirit could potentially grow into a whole orchard of good fruit.


  1. I read this blog post the other night and it's been sitting on the back burner. Then today I saw this article and though of the two of them together:

    Picking one habit to work on for a month with a concrete daily reminder seems so Charlotte Mason.

    1. That is a really interesting article! I am impressed how just typing out something for a month can actually end up shaping behavior. It makes me curious about how that works. I was just reading a book about "affirmations" for success which struck me as rather New-Agey, but from what I've read, the messages we send to ourselves really do make a difference -- I wonder HOW, though.


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