I had the privilege of learning to prune under two “masters” with very different styles. When I was hired to develop and implement a youth-run urban farming program in East Los Angeles, the four-acre plot had been secured and 109 young fruit trees had just been planted along one side of the parcel. Because of the amazing climate in southern California, we could grow everything from citrus and figs to apples and peaches. A woman who taught the “master gardener” course in our area came a couple times and led a pruning workshop with groups of aspiring “masters”. Snip, snip snip: she’d talk while pruning away and in no time 1/2 of our small orchard was ready for another year of growth. She didn’t waste any time; she just quickly took off what seemed to me (as a new orchardist) like most of the new growth on the young trees. I remember being baffled at the difference in our trees after the short time she’d spent with us.
The other “master gardener” I learned from was on the other end of the pruning-time spectrum. He was indeed an artist, and if you were going to learn from him, you had to have no other plans for the rest of the day. From time to time he would come to volunteer on our urban farm, and I learned to drop my plans for the day when I knew he was coming. I loved the way he looked at our trees, and I wanted to learn how to see them the way he did, so I spent countless hours with him as he pruned. He’d approach the tree, walk around it several times, then he would talk me through each cut. He showed me how he was training the young trees— it was like he could see into the future—the cuts today would determine the direction the tree’s growth would take. He took each cut seriously and would sometimes talk me through the debate he was having in his mind. Sometimes he’d have to decide between two young branches: they both could bear fruit, but in the long run if he took one out, the other could have the space to thrive. We could sometimes dialogue about one cut for what seemed like a half an hour. He loved those trees and made a huge investment in their long-time growth.
This week I’ve been remembering these two generous master gardeners as I began pruning the variety of fruit trees at 7th Seed. Yesterday I tackled hardy kiwi that hasn’t been pruned for way too long. It had grown winding twirls around its own branches twisting up and around itself in a huge mess that surely would make it nearly impossible to bear fruit. As I was snipping away—all the way back to the two main branches coming off of each vine, I began reflecting on areas of my life that feel like this tangled mess.
This week, I’ve been ruminating on the beautiful teachings of Jesus in John 15:1-5
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 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. 3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 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.
Though I’ve been familiar with this passage since childhood, I was struck this time with the second part of verse 2: "The branch that DOES bear fruit he prunes so it can bear more fruit.”
I long to have the true Master vinedresser reveal and cut off all the mess I’ve made spending my life’s energy in so many directions—cut off and remove all the extra that doesn’t bear the beautiful fruit of his kingdom’s vineyard.
This lenten season, I pray for the grace to truly believe (moment-by-moment) that “apart from [Him, I] can do NOTHING” and for the grace to truly just ABIDE in the vine.