Before she comes, prune the vines. It is better this way.
Hesiod, Works and Days
The other day my wife and I were pruning our peach trees. According to Hesiod we were late—for the star Arcturus (the ‘she’ in the quotation) appears at the end of February. As Hesiod often points out: there is an appropriate time for each kind of work.
I’m struck again at the rich analogies between the timing of the manual work of various seasons and the deeper, but related, work that should be done in human life—in our relationships and in our souls.
Pruning! What an amazing thing it is. My wife and I are not old hands at it—at least not yet—but we’ve had a few years to enter in to the experience. Sofia remarked to me this year, at one point breaking the near silent rhythm of the clipping, how pruning is a form of being provident. It requires you to look carefully at the here and now and consider it in view of the future. Choose the bud you want to grow; trim to it. That’s the key.
How does my ‘cutting back’ now make the future better? I do something that is in a way counterintuitive in order to dispose for greater growth, and fruiting, and flourishing. We must think of the future, of the whole, of the end. Always begin with the end in mind. The end, and the end alone, gives clear vision of the present, and of where to begin.
A fruit true or a vine only appears as it really is to the eye that is experienced in being provident. How beautiful a call and a challenge this is! Reality always has primacy over appearance. But what does it take to see reality as it is—or in other words so that it appears to us as it is?
Practice in pruning is a learning to see how things really are. And more: it is practice in acting so as to craft things into their true selves.
The Christian discipline of Lent is surely an astounding instance of pruning in human life. We have the opportunity to examine our lives, and our loved ones, very closely. If we trim precisely here, then and only then will we grow in precisely this way—the way we are intended to grow; the way that is actually more natural and even super-natural.
There is a time to do this. And that time is passing. For a particular star will soon be rising.
Image: It might not be pretty now. But it will be.
Hesiod (8th century B.C.) was a Greek contemporary of Homer, and likewise an epic poet. His Works and Days sketches the year-round work on a homestead.
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