Living on a vineyard keeps me close to the seasonality of life. The delight of budburst, the setting of the fruit, the ripening, the harvest and turning the grapes into wine are all predicated on pruning – good pruning. Get the pruning wrong and problems cascade through every stage. It’s about balance, structure and attention to detail.
At pruning, we remove 90% of the growth of the previous year to make way for the next year’s crop. Pruning determines the growth, potential yield and quality of the coming harvest. Prune too hard or too little and the vines get out of balance. Prune too hard and there is not enough fruit, but big bunches and lots of canopy. Prune too little and there are too many bunches and the vine will struggle to carry the fruit through to harvest.
It’s not just how many buds are left, but ensuring that there is adequate spacing between the buds and that they will grow in the right direction. Too close and the bunches will crowd each other and stay wet longer after rain, increasing the possibility of mould and mildew. Downward and sideways growing shoots are hard to train and risk being damaged by machinery.
Pruning is also the longest activity in the cycle of the vineyard. Lasting for almost three months it requires sustained effort and perseverance to get it done. It’s not something you can rush. The most important thing is to start. To start and to persist. To not be overwhelmed by the size of the task, but to break the job down into manageable chunks. Personally, I set little targets for each two-hour block and try to be in the moment – this vine, this cane, these buds, nice cut! I celebrate what has been accomplished, rather than worrying about what is still to be done. I always like to face towards the rows of vines that have been pruned and have my back to those multitudes still waiting.
In his travels through the Kidron Valley, Jesus would have walked through and observed the ancient vineyards that had been bearing fruit for generations. Jesus spoke of himself as the true vine and of God as the vinegrower:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.” (John 15:1-2)
The ancients believed that when God created the world, he created a garden, a vineyard. Something that needs constant care and attention: watering, weeding, pruning, pest control, training. Left to themselves vines grow wild and produce poor crops. Without care, our lives can become wild and out of control.
As I prune these words often come to mind and I find myself asking myself questions. How do I feed my inner self? What are the weeds in my life that choke growth? What things do I need to let go of to make way for growth? Sometimes it’s the very things we love that need to be pruned back. How do I restore balance to my life?
The answers are there in the pruning as well; I want my life to bear fruit. The Apostle Paul said that the fruits of the spirit were love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness and self-control. These are the fruits that come from careful pruning away of the needless busyness, petty resentments and individualism of our lives and brings meaning and purpose to living.
This is the gospel, and it’s good news.
Brian Spencer, Minister