Building a trellis



Daily Reading for May 12

Several years ago I led a retreat whose theme was “I am the vine, and you are the branches.” What on earth can I find new to say about those very familiar words? I wondered. Instead of turning to the Bible commentaries, I took myself off to the local Barnes and Noble and got a few books on viticulture. It was fascinating. From my study of the cultivation of grapes two important things have stayed with me. First, all grapes need trellises if they are to bear much fruit, and there are many ways to build a trellis, depending on the variety of grape and the growing conditions. After all, not all grapes are alike; they need different kinds of support. Creating a rule of life is like that: what liberates one person may constrict another.

Likewise, what serves me well at this stage of my life would have been quite wrong, even damaging, for me as a twenty-year-old. From my viticulture book I also learned that growers of grapes know that the vine must not be tied too tightly to the trellis, but just snugly enough so that it is supported and free to flourish. Like the vines, we too need to be supported but not constricted, held up but not rendered immobile.

Making a rule, like devising a trellis, must have something to do with real people trying to get through their days mindfully and fruitfully. The very phrase “rule of life” suggests something far removed from modern life, and there is always the danger of romanticizing the past and seeking to live by an unreal and absurd standard that cannot be maintained. A rule of life for the rest of us has to be rooted in the here-and-now; it has to be germane and useful. But for Christians seeking to cultivate a life with God and one another, the classic monastic rules are a good place to begin.

From At Home in the World: A Rule of Life for the Rest of Us by Margaret Guenther. Copyright © 2006. Seabury Books, an imprint of Church Publishing. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY.

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  1. Speaking of vines and branches (and pruning), here's a paragraph from "Stars in a Dark World":

    "There is a legend among French wine-makers that one day St. Martin of Tours rode his donkey out to one of the remote vineyards belonging to the monastery. He tied his donkey to a grape vine and completed his business. But when he was ready to return, he found that his donkey had eaten the vines down the very stubs. He was very contrite. But, the next spring the monks found that the vines that had been chewed off by Martin’s donkey bore more healthy shoots and a greater yield of fine grapes than all the other vines. They learned from that, and ever since, grape vines have been drastically pruned every fall to produce the finest grapes."

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