Parable of the Grape Vine

“I am the vine and my Father is the vinedresser.”

Since becoming a vinedresser last year to a bronze magnolia scuppernong muscadine grape vine (or grape mom, as I call myself), I’ve learned a lot. I am self-taught, but I am now well on my way to a bounty of grapes for next year.

Last year my vine didn’t grape because it was young and not pruned correctly – I mistakenly thought I should hold back on the young plant. It made loads of leaves. Luscious, green, and healthy leaves without a hint of grapes. My neighbors said the plant was probably too young to grape, but it was really my pruning sheers. I pruned it over the winter in hopes of fruit. I ended up pruning it incorrectly for its size, but it prevailed.

Behold, fruit! This is all of it. Like a new Christian, it isn’t much, but it is something! In addition to the fetal grapes – it made even more leaves than last year – a few more branches too. Grapes come from new growth on old growth – its a delicate balancing act. You can’t have every branch make grapes. The fruit will taste bad because it’s limited resources are spread too thin. 

Sound like any Christians you know?

“Every branch in me that does not bear fruit He takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

A proper grapevine will concentrate the grapes to the fruiting arms off the main vine – you have to cut back on the beautiful folage if you want grapes. The main vine trunk sustains everything – the fruit is on the on the braches – never the trunk. 

“As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

I read this verse in John 15 with fresh eyes and heart after taking care of a grape vine for two growing seasons. The Lord wants us to bear fruit, not folage. Fruiting doesnt just spontaneously happen like leaves: it requires removing things, even good things, to make room for the fruit. It requires direction and it’s a limited venture: grapes only come off the fruiting spurs on the braches. The fruiting spurs come from pruning most of the previous season’s growth. I know it sounds counterproductive to our Americanistic ideals, but I am continuously reminded that the way of God doesnt really jive with the way Americans are bred to live, think, and act. 

This grape vine is a tangile reminder that the gospel is alive, the Lord knows what we need when we need it. Only He can prune the branches where they need to be. Jesus is the trunk of the vine, sustaining everything. 

And if I’m really quiet in the garden, I can hear the Holy Spirit.

The Old Ways

Last weekend, something mechanical died in our refrigerator. The door was warm to the touch and the ice/water dispenser suddenly stopped working. We worried about an electrical fire, so we bought a new fridge – to be delivered in a week – and unplugged it when we weren’t home or sleeping. Two days later, I couldn’t plug it in without blowing the kitchen circuit. This fridge was over 20 years old and original to the house. It survived the original smoking owners in the late 90’s (it’s white but the handles are yellowed with nicotine) and the previous owners, who ran quite the heroin business, destroyed it on an aesthetic and biohazard level (how do you scuff and scrape the inside of a fridge and not clean it when its obviously filthy?!). It was ugly, but it functioned. 

Our new fridge is smaller and doesn’t have the ice maker or water dispenser. I will miss that, but then again, this fridge fits in better with our simple, minimalistic if you will, lifestyle. 

The old fridge didn’t have a filter on the waterline and God only knows what was growing in those lines undectected. I always thought the ice tasted weird. Now we’re moving forward with a Brita pitcher and ice cube trays. It will be cleaner with no more atrohpied ice cubes or questionable water. I’m more aware of my surroundings when I have to do something about them. I don’t see it as a burden, I see it as living purposely. Just like following after Christ.

One of my favorite bloggers, Lore Ferguson Wilbert, once wrote about the joy of pitting cherries by hand, even though it took ages and buying them prepared could save time for something else. She says,

“….but when everything exists to make our lives easier, faster, more automated, and less work, well, what else is there to do but commentate? We become merely observers of life and not partakers in it.”

Lore Ferguson Wilbert

There is something calming to me about slowing down and working with my hands, becoming a part of the work that needs to be done. Whether it’s weeding the garden, mowing my lawn with a cutreel, watering my plants via watering can, or evening putting away the dishes, I’m taking the time to become a part my environment and be still without rushing to the next thing. I am partaking in my garden, not merely observing it. When I tell people I make bread, their eyes light up, “Oh, you have a bread machine?” No, I kneed, prove for an hour, knock it back, then wait another hour before baking for another hour. They always look befuddled. Who has the time for such things? I can only think, “Who has the money for a bread machine and the space to store it?”

The old ways are dying. We live in a very automated age and I think it bleeds over into our churches and everyday lives, where we expect things that should to take time, to act like an HVAC system: a touch of a button changes things to your comfort level and the troubleshooting manual or repair person will get your system working again. Grief, doubts, job frustration, marriage problems, singleness – we expect a quick fix because everything else in life has two day shipping or can be deduced after a few queries in a search engine. But it doesn’t work that way. God designed life not to work that way.

I recently discovered the joys of a french press coffee maker. I’ve abandoned my screen filtered drip coffee maker entirely. Yes, it takes more effort on my part, but the taste is worth it. I have this coffee ritual now: boil the water in the kettle, pour it onto my coffee grounds, stir, then wait four minutes before pressing the grounds, releasing all the flavor and oils. Of course, I add my natural creamer with sugar and the result is pure heaven. I’d rather have a good cuppa that takes a few extra minutes than a fast meh one. Also, my old coffee maker is in desperate need of a vinegar bath; something is probably growing in the moist dark inner parts. I can soak every part of the french press.

Faster isn’t always better. Sometimes the slow old ways remind us to slow down and take in life.

Just like I made time for Jesus, I am also making ice cubes and refilling a filtered pitcher of water for my family. And now, coffee takes a few more pouring and stirring steps. It’s part of life here at the Dovecote, and I am proud to be a part of it.

Gardening Contemplation

Since turning to the contemplative prayer lifestyle, it’s changed other areas of my life which I never expected. Ah, but such is the life of a Christian.

In short, contemplative prayer involves meditation. It is taking the time to be silent before God and just be. It’s a chance for my soul to rest at the feet of my Lord. It goes further than just checking a box while reading the morning devotion. It means quality over quantity: reading a short passage or a line of Scripture and mulling it over in your mind for a few minutes. Sometimes it means unpacking the message, viewing the context from the view of someone in the passage, or asking yourself questions and how it relates to your treatment of others/God. Other times it’s imagining the sights, sounds, and smells that would accompany the words of Scripture.

It’s an anathema to modern American Christianity. It’s centering. It’s quiet. No flashy lights, no sleek messaging, nearly impossible to Instagram it. It is simply dwelling with Jesus. I use the Pray As You Go app during my lunch walk. It’s an English production and while it is backed by the Catholic Church, it’s so focused on Jesus, you won’t be able to tell it’s Catholic.

Following Jesus means you’re living a life of intention. For many Christians, Christianity is habit, not an intent. Contemplative prayer breaks you out of the typical Christian humdrum of bouncing across the surface instead of plumbing the depths – sometimes where the light doesn’t shine. I want the real Jesus, not this sanitized American version that comes with the “If you do X, God will do Y” formula. That is nothing more than a prosperity gospel dressed up for a middle class capitalistic society with education and money.

A fruit of my garden labor….my favorite garden flower, a Camellia (Corina variety)

I’ve become a better gardener since becoming contemplative. So many times we plant things and then life happens: days, weeks, months later we go to find them dead, diseased, or struggling to survive. We promise to do better and then we don’t. We don’t follow through. Our modern lives are filled with so many things that light up, ding, talk to us – not to mention cooking, cleaning, eating, sleeping, random household things – there simply isn’t time.

I disagree.

If you make it a priority, it’ll happen. But that’s just it: you have to want it and make time for it. Sometimes 10 minutes of contemplative prayer is better than an hour long Bible study. I do a quick survey in my yard at least once a day to see how things are going and address the issues straightaway. Beyond that, it’s a tangible way for me to slow down and take in the sights, sounds, and smells of the garden. I get joy from seeing my double formal Camellias carry on with green glossy leaves. My tea plants are flushing with new growth, although they’re still well below my knee. The bed I made around the water oaks with ajuga from my old house, white lantana, and a prized red azalea as its center piece always makes me smile – especially now that the ajuga is taking off. Pretty soon I’ll have to divide it up and give it away someone else.

That’s the beauty of the garden – I get to share it with others. Just like the peace and calmness I get from sitting quietly before Jesus, contemplating the finer notes of Scripture, savoring every new leaf and rejoicing at the flower buds.

Slow down, you busy Christians. This life Jesus calls us to is meant to be lived with purpose and love. Yes, sometimes life gets crazy busy – that will happen – but it should not be a lifestyle to maintain.