Monday, May 07, 2012

Lessons from the Vineyard

"I am the vine," he said.
"You are the branches."

We live in vineyard country here in Santa Barbara County.
 It has not always been so.

For hundreds of years, the rolling hills around our county
looked like this. They were covered with oak trees, 
 singly or straggling down the hillsides by the dozen, 
creating a landscape unique to this part of the world. 

Then the trees began going down by the hundreds, 
bulldozed to make room for 
vineyards that look like this.
Miles and miles of vineyards. 
Espaliered grape vines began to sprout out of the ground, neat rows replacing the random gorgeousness
of oaks and wildflowers.

For many, this felt like an assault on nature,
beauty and 
the central coast way of life.

For others, it was evidence of a dream come true.
About a dozen years ago, county supervisors decided to stop the wholesale destruction of native oak groves,
insisting that any new vineyard acreage be built around
the natural habitat instead of through it.

As the vineyards matured, those of us who live by and drive on these highways and byways began to take note of the new beauty around us, enjoying the contrast of
planned and unplanned vegetation.

Now we can follow the seasons by paying attention to what's happening in the vineyards.
The brilliant, lush green foliage of summer,
the red-gold shimmer of fall,
as the harvest begins.
The increasingly bare branches as December approaches. 
 It is when the branches are at their barest that some of the most important work of the year happens:

That good work of shaping, sorting, sifting through the vines for the best, preserving only what will produce good fruit the following year.
Winter is the time for trimming and cutting and neatening things,
making space for the plumpest of red, purple or green grapes, grapes that will grow heavy and rich as harvest time approaches.
 It's during the pruning season that things are made ready.
Dead wood is removed,
unproductive sucker growth is tossed into the fire.
And sure enough,
when March rolls around,
new growth starts to shoot,
reaching for the sun, growing strong and sturdy,
ready to support the heaviest of clusters,
the richest of harvests.

I wonder, what season am I in?
In terms of my lifetime, I know it is autumn.
And that means the fruit should be ready.
How has the Master of the Vineyard pruned and shaped
and trimmed and cut back the branch that is me?

Have I consented to the shears?
The ones that want to cut away the lies?
The lies I tell and the lies I believe,
the dead stuff that weighs me down
and keeps me stuck.

Have I invited the Husbandman to trim away the compulsions, the anxieties, the addictions - however they may reveal themselves in my life?

Have I said 'yes' to the Gardener, the one
who sees what is full of life and promise and potential,
the one who can see what will yield the sweetest of fruit?

And have I allowed my soul-tendrils to sink firmly into the Vine,
practicing those things that will help me to dwell,
to stand firm in, 
to steady myself, 

 For much of my life, I feared this word of Jesus in the gospel of John. 
Taught that bad branches would end up in the fire, I wanted to work ever-so-hard to pump out those grapes!
It is only in recent  years -
these years that I've been driving through vineyard country - that I've begun to realize that ALL the branches on the vine are pruned.
And that kind of pruning is a good thing.
Everyone of us has stuff that needs to be cut away,
thrust into the incinerator,
moved aside 
so that there is more breathing room for good things,
sweet things,
rich things,
nourishing things...
for FRUIT.

It sounds so scary, though, doesn't it?
Painful, too.
And I suppose sometimes, it is.
It's painful to let go of habits,
compulsive behaviors,
and all those things we fill that interior space with,
day in and day out.

But... here's the thing:
it all needs to go.
All of it.
And for good reason, too.
It's hard to produce
when the branch is laden down with all that other crap. my own winter draws near,
will I allow the Vineyard Owner to do what needs to be done?
I hope so. I really do.
Because a well-pruned branch,
lovingly shaped and carefully trimmed -
well that's where the good stuff grows.

My thanks to Don Johnson for his reflection on this passage in worship this morning.
And special thanks to Bob Gross for his wonderful musical setting of an obscure old hymn, bringing words to life in new and fresh ways. 

Joining Michelle for her "Hear It on Sunday" gathering,
Jen and the Soli deo gloria sisterhood,
Laura at "Playdates with God,"
and L.L. with "On, In and Around Monday"