The Gospel from Sunday continues to resonate for me, there is something about the grapevine and the pruning that strikes deeply into my heart. The other readings were on target for me as well, especially the second, the letter from John.
About 8 years ago, I was in a really challenging series of circumstances, both professionally and personally. It really felt as if everything that was important was being torn away from me; I was truly adrift. One particularly bad chain of events had me in a terrible position at my job and I was sure that I was going to be the fall-guy for a situation gone very wrong.
My boss really seemed to have turned on me, and that was awful. We had to fly to California together and we sat in a stony silence at JFK airport, until she began to yell at me. It was not good. I got on the plane and was sitting in the rear, my boss was up front. I began to cry because I was so sure that I was about to be out of a job. Through my tears I prayed very clearly, asking in confidence for a miracle. Someone came to sit next to me, so I tried to dry my tears and look out the window.
When it was time to take off, and the announcements were made, I stared out into the morning sky. Seat belts, safety information, anticipated flight time, the usual. Then the flight attendant added that there would be a movie shown. What movie would that be? “Our movie today will be Miracle, starring Kurt Russell.” I heard that and I began to laugh and cry at the same moment! Not that I took it completely literally, but I thought it was interesting that I had just prayed for a… miracle!
After landing my boss seemed fine as we drove to our destination, but once again the conversation turned to the situation at hand. Things had gone wrong, someone had to take the fall, it looked like it would be me. We parted and went to our rooms. I felt restless and frightened, so I headed out into the streets of Pasadena, to go for a walk.
As I walked, I struggled with the notion of just letting it all go, and trust that God would always be there for me. Some grace allowed me to barely begin to accept this. In my head I knew it, but to live that way? I came upon a small jewelry and gift shop and decided to enter. There I found a necklace, a filigree silver ball on a black silken cord. It was beautiful, and not terribly expensive, so on a whim, I purchased it. When I got back to my room, I opened the box and found a card inside. The jewelry maker was called Grapevine. The card had a short description of how grape vines had to be pruned very harshly in order to bear fruit. It was around this time of year, so perhaps this same Gospel was in my ears and on my heart?
Suddenly, I felt a rush of grace. No matter what was being cut or why, I did actually have to let go. Now this makes it all sound so facile, but it was part of a much bigger process. My life was really starting to change dramatically and I realized that what had to be cut, would be cut. Things had to change – and I had to change, and be willing to change, too.
I did not lose my job; in fact, within the year my boss had left and I was elevated. Every time I wore that necklace, (and I wear it still), I remembered the pruning.
God’s work in our lives is a mystery. We have to act in faith and ask for what we want, but be willing to accept what is and to cooperate with grace. This is hard work. Sometimes it means the cruelest pruning, but then comes the most bountiful vine.
This pruning does not mean that self-mortification is a good thing – God’s hand does the pruning and not our own. Nor does it justify mistreatment from others, again, God’s hand is at work. Does the mystery sometimes mean that either of those things can happen? Yes! However it is far too easy to get caught in justification or rejection of either.
God is the vine, we are the branches. Perhaps another musing for another day – we are the branches. This does not mean we get to lop off those we wish would go away. Ah… another musing, another day. God’s hand does the work, we simply cooperate or not.