Friday, March 16, 2007

Pruning and Care

The sun is shining for the first time this week, it seems. Just in time to highlight all the plum blossoms on the sapling we planted last fall, and warm the seedbeds we're planting now. I've also been pruning the apple tree again. Part of me hates to do it--not the hard work or tending to living things, but the idea of cutting away living branches just doesn't seem right to me.

Of course, I've seen what the tree looks like after not being properly pruned for several years, and absolutely feral apple trees in an abandoned orchard on Vashon Island, and they are sights to behold... and hardly an apple to them. As it is, our apple tree only bears fruit every-other year, possibly a symptom of insufficient trimming. So last year I took off some branches and snipped a lot of suckers (the little shoots off branches that will "suck" energy out of the tree without producing fruit), and this year I've tried to reach a lot of branches I couldn't get at last year. I haven't taken all that much biomass off the tree, but still... I feel like I'm betraying the tree somehow.

It just doesn't seem right. Still, I'll have to wait to see if it works, and if the tree bears more fruit more regularly. But part of me also just would rather it grow feral and happy--even if that means less fruit for me, the tree would be free. But, I must remember, just letting it go wouldn't be best for the tree, wouldn't be healthiest for the tree, and it could soon start choking itself and in a few years lead to sickness and stagnation. (But wouldn't it be better to be sickly and natural, than healthy and clipped?!) You can see me waffling even now.

There are a lot of things that could cause pain, even among us humans, that need to be clipped sometimes. Kids need to learn not to keep pooping their pants, for instance, and for all the trauma and struggle that is potty-training, it is necessary. We need to learn to share; to be polite, and we need to stand up to evil in this world--all of which in turn is sometimes awkward and painful. I'm not saying the pain is good--or even less that all pain is good; don't misunderstand me. But perhaps I'm saying that pain isn't always bad, or at least isn't always indicating that we shouldn't be doing that thing which causes us pain. (Of course, sometimes pain means just that, too.)

My wife has been having a rough time lately, for a couple reasons, but biggest among them is still her coming to terms with her father's death. They were very close, and the loss is deep. But the pain she is feeling now, I don't think, isn't saying that the love and closeness they felt was bad. In fact, quite the opposite. The depth and profundity of suffering felt now sharpens the realization of how precious and worthwhile that connection with her father was. (Of course, it could go the other way, too, and so hurt her that she not want to connect so deeply with another... but I don't think that will happen.)

Pruning also helps trees deal with trauma--the loss of a limb or lightning strike deals more harshly with wild trees. Wild trees suffer infection more, and one limb crashing down will take out or weigh down many others. Whereas trimmed trees are more nimble, and can direct energy to where it will be most fruitful. This, I think, is what we mean by "healthy" trees--not that pruned trees don't suffer, but that they can deal with the suffering better... that they can direct energy where it is needed.

Is part of ministry the idea of "pruning" and "trimming" congregants with prayer and story, sermon and scripture, so they can more nimbly respond to the needs and hurts of the world? Perhaps "the world's" answer is absolute freedom--grow whichever way you want, you know best what you need, do what feels good, and so on. But does that make us healthy? Does answering our own needs and desires first make us better people, more responsive to the need to change the directions of our energies or attentions, more able to deal healthfully with loss and suffering?

And ministry isn't only pruning, but training and directing and fertilizing and protecting and treating and harvesting. It isn't as if only pruning is all there is to having an apple tree. Similarly, being a minister, or a good friend, is about looking after the whole person, and helping that person be a fruitful, healthy being.

Part of me will have to overcome my sensitivity to pruning, seeing it as one part of a larger, longer campaign to care for my trees. And God's people.

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  • I made lots of "mmm" and "mm-hm" noises as I read this entry, Christian, so it must be good! (I always have to watch when I'm reading for school while on public transit because I tend to make noises that freak people out a bit)
    I agree that pain is not inherently a bad thing (maybe not inherently good either, but we're already pretty well acquainted with that). I think also many of us struggle with the entwined, dynamic relationship between pain and pleasure - we'd like to neatly and tidily separate them out, but life isn't quite that simple. It's like my favourite, though rather cheezy, movie quote from Steel Magnolias: "Laughter through tears is my favourite emotion" - somehow both the pain and the pleasure are more accute when they are tightly bound together.
    There's a great novel called Broken for You by Stephanie Kallos (it's set in Seattle actually) that explores this subject beautifully. I evangelize about this book all the time so forgive me if I've mentioned it before. My favourite quote from the book: "we're worth more broken".

    By Blogger Shannon, at 2:48 PM  

  • As I read Shannon's entry, especially toward the end, I was reminded of one of my favorite scriptures. Ether 5:28: I give unto men weakness, that thye may be humble, and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.

    As I read your writings about pruning, what came to mind is that sometimes, well often actually, we need to look at what we are doing as a person, congregation or church and decide whether or not a specific task or program or for that matter, person is still "needed". Sometimes the dead wood needs to be removed and the little suckers (that which sucks the life out of the church) need to dealt with in order to stimulate growth.

    By Blogger Mike, at 9:31 PM  

  • Take your inane ramblings, and flaccid vitals, liquify them into an easily-digestible format, and liberally insert them intravenously into your steadily decaying form, you purid perpetuator of all that's moronic.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:06 PM  

  • Wow! I think I like the lyricism of that last one the best! :-D

    By Blogger Christian, at 5:40 PM  

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