Sunday, October 16, 2011

Beware of pests in the vineyard

A pest in the vineyard
Grape Gathering by Xedos4
My father makes wine, and we often help with the wine making process. One year, we decided that we could improve the wine if we were to pluck the stems from the grape bunches before crushing the grapes. Since we had copious amounts of grapes, plucking the stems was a time intensive, laborious task, but it was well worth the effort. That year’s vintage was outstanding.

I was gratified to learn at a recent tutored wine tasting that some limited edition vintages are created from grapes that are both hand picked and de-stemmed. Even prior to harvest, the vines for these more expensive wines are trellised in a special way to promote the production of high quality fruit.

Still, things can go wrong. Pests can attack the viability of the crop. The louse, for example, attacks the roots. It’s a sneaky little pest whose presence can go undetected for a long time. It is only when the leaves of the vines begin to die prematurely that the disease become obvious. By then, it may be too late to save the vines and the rootstock.

Growers sometimes plant rose bushes in the vineyard among their vines. The rose bush is a natural alarm system alerting growers to pests. If the rose bush looks sick, the grower can assess the problem and take action to save the vines.

Biblical image of the vineyard
The vineyard is a classical Biblical image. In the Hebrew Bible, the prophets used it to describe the relationship of God and the nation of ancient Israel. In the New Testament, Jesus compares himself to the vine. He is the healthy vine; his disciples are the branches. Separated from the vine, the branches lose their vitality. They wither and die.

The images of the vineyard, and of the vine and branches have profound implications for human spirituality. They are images that speak of the human cycle of goodness and sin from which no person or group is exempt. Individuals and groups of individuals, including religious institutions, are at various times, both sinner and saint.

The spiritual rose bush - an interior alarm 
Each one of us has a spiritual rose bush, an inner sense of disquiet that alerts us to a pest in the vineyard of our soul. Sometimes we heed that sense of uneasiness. Sometimes, we ignore it. We may have become so accustomed to it that we no longer even notice the alarm bell ringing.

The first spiritual rose bush is the emerging and developing conscience. Those little pangs of conscience that bothered us as children were indicators of something amiss in our behavior. Parental disapproval and feelings of guilt, remorse or regret prompted us to correct our mistakes.

Wine Taster by Luigi Diamanti
With maturity, the focus of our disquiet changes. We are more reflective and self-aware. When we recognize our inner alarms and act on them, we are like vintners striving to produce a fine wine. We are strengthening our best characteristics, and plucking away at our deficiencies. We are de-stemming that which makes the wine of our life bitter.

As we eradicate one pest from the vineyard, another may appear. When we reflect on our life, we will likely be able to name a number of pests that have threatened the fruit of our branches.

Presently, my spiritual alarm is a feeling of a generalized dissatisfaction with my life, and it always surfaces when I become focused on my self. My ego becomes that sneaky little pest, subtly worming its way into my consciousness, and draining me of vitality.

When I feel dissatisfied for any length of time, I know I need to rebuild the trellis that supports spiritual growth. Prayer, attentiveness to scripture, communal worship, and acts of kindness help to restore me and to create optimal conditions for producing good fruit.

The images of the vineyard and the vine have something to teach all of us. We need to carefully tend our spirituality. When we ignore the spiritual part of our inner being, we begin to suffer some kind of disconnection from our self, from others, from creation, and from the divine. We produce low quality fruit and we end up with lousy wine.

Photo Credits:
"Grapes" by Xedos4:  Courtesy of Free Digital Photos
"Wine Taster" by Luigi Diamanti: Courtesy of Free Digital Photos

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