Lessons from the Vineyard

“I am the vine,” he said.
“You are the branches.”
We live in vineyard country here in Santa Barbara County.
 It has not always been so.

For hundreds of years, the rolling hills around our county
looked like this. They were covered with oak trees, 
 singly or straggling down the hillsides by the dozen, 
creating a landscape unique to this part of the world. 
Then the trees began going down by the hundreds, 
bulldozed to make room for 
vineyards that look like this.
Miles and miles of vineyards. 
Espaliered grape vines began to sprout out of the ground, neat rows replacing the random gorgeousness
of oaks and wildflowers.

For many, this felt like an assault on nature,
beauty and 
the central coast way of life.

For others, it was evidence of a dream come true.
About a dozen years ago, county supervisors decided to stop the wholesale destruction of native oak groves,
insisting that any new vineyard acreage be built around
the natural habitat instead of through it.
As the vineyards matured, those of us who live by and drive on these highways and byways began to take note of the new beauty around us, enjoying the contrast of
planned and unplanned vegetation.
Now we can follow the seasons by paying attention to what’s happening in the vineyards.
The brilliant, lush green foliage of summer,
the red-gold shimmer of fall,
as the harvest begins.
The increasingly bare branches as December approaches. 
 It is when the branches are at their barest that some of the most important work of the year happens:
That good work of shaping, sorting, sifting through the vines for the best, preserving only what will produce good fruit the following year.
Winter is the time for trimming and cutting and neatening things,
making space for the plumpest of red, purple or green grapes, grapes that will grow heavy and rich as harvest time approaches.
 It’s during the pruning season that things are made ready.
Dead wood is removed,
unproductive sucker growth is tossed into the fire.
And sure enough,
when March rolls around,
new growth starts to shoot,
reaching for the sun, growing strong and sturdy,
ready to support the heaviest of clusters,
the richest of harvests.
I wonder, what season am I in?
In terms of my lifetime, I know it is autumn.
And that means the fruit should be ready.
How has the Master of the Vineyard pruned and shaped
and trimmed and cut back the branch that is me?
Have I consented to the shears?
The ones that want to cut away the lies?
The lies I tell and the lies I believe,
the dead stuff that weighs me down
and keeps me stuck.
Have I invited the Husbandman to trim away the compulsions, the anxieties, the addictions – however they may reveal themselves in my life?
Have I said ‘yes’ to the Gardener, the one
who sees what is full of life and promise and potential,
the one who can see what will yield the sweetest of fruit?
And have I allowed my soul-tendrils to sink firmly into the Vine,
practicing those things that will help me to dwell,
to stand firm in, 
to steady myself, 
 For much of my life, I feared this word of Jesus in the gospel of John. 
Taught that bad branches would end up in the fire, I wanted to work ever-so-hard to pump out those grapes!
It is only in recent  years –
these years that I’ve been driving through vineyard country – that I’ve begun to realize that ALL the branches on the vine are pruned.
And that kind of pruning is a good thing.
Everyone of us has stuff that needs to be cut away,
thrust into the incinerator,
moved aside 
so that there is more breathing room for good things,
sweet things,
rich things,
nourishing things…
for FRUIT.
It sounds so scary, though, doesn’t it?
Painful, too.
And I suppose sometimes, it is.
It’s painful to let go of habits,
compulsive behaviors,
and all those things we fill that interior space with,
day in and day out.

But… here’s the thing:
it all needs to go.
All of it.
And for good reason, too.
It’s hard to produce
when the branch is laden down with all that other crap.
So…as my own winter draws near,
will I allow the Vineyard Owner to do what needs to be done?
I hope so. I really do.
Because a well-pruned branch,
lovingly shaped and carefully trimmed –
well that’s where the good stuff grows.
My thanks to Don Johnson for his reflection on this passage in worship this morning.
And special thanks to Bob Gross for his wonderful musical setting of an obscure old hymn, bringing words to life in new and fresh ways. 
Joining Michelle for her “Hear It on Sunday” gathering,
Jen and the Soli deo gloria sisterhood,
Laura at “Playdates with God,”
and L.L. with “On, In and Around Monday”


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  1. Joellen Maurer says

    Thank you. I needed to read that! 

  2. Our sermon on Sunday talked about local vineyards–the Texas Hill Country is a big wine region. 

    But your part about the oaks strikes me. I learned on my trip that Northern Ireland used to be covered in oak trees, but they were cut down for building or burning. There are hardly any left. Most of the trees you see there now are transplants. Doing well, but transplants, nonethless. Like vineyards in Texas, not there naturally, still producing fruit.

  3. pastordt says

    How nice to see your name here, Joellen! And I’m glad what I’m in the midst of processing was helpful to you. Hoping you have some downtime as the end of term approaches!

  4. pastordt says

    Amazing to think of that place covered in oaks! Undoubtedly different varieties than those that sprout in this desert clime, but still oaks. And thank you for that reminder that we are ALL transplants – called to bear fruit wherever we may land. Thankfully the ‘vineyard movement’ has slowed way down. In fact, a joke that is repeated goes like this. “Wanna make a million bucks? Invest 2 mill in a vineyard!” There has definitely been a glut on the market! I’ve come to appreciate the orderly beauty of these places on our drives north (and south), but I still miss the miles and miles of natural landscape. I remember seeing some vineyards as we drove out to the Lodge – I’ll have to look again in September.

  5. JosephPote says

    What a beautiful allegory!  I love how you have fleshed out the teaching of Christ in John 8.

    I have started a very small personal vineyard, just six vines.  I find pruning to be a very difficult task.  I don’t like cutting off perfectly good, healthy branches!  Yet I know it is necessary for the good of the plant and the harvest.

    The same is true in life.  I don’t like giving up really good activities and ministries!  Yet, I know a life focused on the most important is more productive in bearing fruit for the Master.

    Thanks for sharing!

  6. pastordt says

    Nice to see you here, Joseph. And you know, six vines sounds just about right to me! My husband loves to prune everything in sight – it’s one of his favorite, dirty, sweaty jobs – so he really appreciated our pastor’s take on this chapter (and it was ch. 15, not 8) yesterday. So I let his response sort of percolate with my own thinking after that sermon and this is the result. Thanks for dropping by.

  7. JosephPote says

    Your right!  Chapter 15!

    I was studying chapter 8, yesterday, Jesus’ discussion with the Pharisees regarding spiritual heritage…guess I had it on my mind…


  8. Jody Collins says

    Diana–pruning, ahhhhh…I wrote something similarf during a season in my life last year (never knowing I’d be writing a blog this year) but I may just file it away forever. 🙂 you’ve said everything so beautifully, especially this part:
    Because a well-pruned branch,
    lovingly shaped and carefully trimmed –
    well that’s where the good stuff grows.
    I’m so thankful He is never done with us.

  9. Glenda Childers says

    In my head … I have a love hate relationship with the word pruning. But in my heart, I really know it is the right thing and have seen the benefits in my life and truly want to welcome it. That is why we need each other, eh? It takes courage.

  10. pastordt says

    Exactly, Glenda. This is why we need each other.

  11. I admit, I resist the pruning  — especially the pruning of what I consider some of the “good stuff” I do. But the cutting away opens up room for new growth and bloom.

    From where I sit, Diana, it looks like God has pruned you exactly, perfectly well.

  12. pastordt says

    Ain’t nothin’ perfect in this life, honey. But I thank you for your kind words.

  13. Hi Diana. I found your blog through the Hear It Use It community and have enjoyed poking around your blog a little bit. I enjoy your thoughtful reflections and will be back 🙂  I especially appreciate the photos you tied to this passage — I can imagine Jesus sharing this words with his disciples and it making complete sense to them — because they knew the gardener/husbandry process.  Thanks for giving me a visual too!

  14. I’ll be there! And this time I will grab you, and we can sit down and visit.

  15. pastordt says

    Thanks so much, Karna. Finding life lessons in vineyards has been encouraging, that’s for sure. And I’m now reading Lois Tvyberg’s books about the Judaism of Jesus time – really helpful in understanding lots of images in the gospels.

  16. pastordt says

    Or I will grab YOU – but there will definitely be some grabbing (the good kind) going on. So glad you’re coming.

  17. Your poignant vineyard lessons remind me of a wonderful book by Wayne Jacobsen: In My Father’s Vineyard.

  18. pastordt says

    Thanks for you kind words, Connie. And thanks for the book suggestion, too – I’ll check it out!

  19. This seemed like it all just flowed straight from the heart. I am wrestling with such similar things. I am reminded of the end of Mere Christianity when CS Lewis writes that God doesn’t just want to trim us branch by branch – He wants the whole tree out. And at the end of all that pruning, there is such peace. That is the light at the end of the journey. So glad to be reminded of that while reading your post today.

  20. pastordt says

    Hey, you! Nice to see you here. I think what you wrote about today is related to this whole idea – sometimes the things that need pruning are doubt/disbelief/fear – which in and of themselves are not sinful so much as signs of our brokenness. They can move into sin when we choose them time after time. But sometimes, we’re not able to choose anything else. That’s when we need help. And good therapists, pastoral counselors and spiritual directors can help with God’s pruning, don’t you think?

  21. A couple years ago we hired a guy to prune our pear tree (you know, the one that recently was split by the wind and is no more?). Watching this man work was a thing of wonder. Turns out, he used to live out in your country and it was his job to prune the grape vines in the vineyards. He was so deliberate and careful…it took him hours what many would carelessly do in moments.

    I learned so much about what you say here from watching him.

  22. Mark Roberts says

    Hello, Diana.

    I turned 55 today. I’ve been thinking about people who made a big difference in my life. One was Arthur Bottaro. So I Googled on his name to see what I might find. I was soon reading your blog entry of January 20, 2012. I was tracking with you completely. Then I got to the paragraph when you mentioned David Brooks and The Social Animal. I’m still with you, 100%. I love Brooks and I loved the Social Animal. (Just had the chance to meet Brooks this week, actually.) Then you mentioned the Book Club at The High Calling. Whoa! I work at Foundations for Laity Renewal, sponsors of The High Calling. I also do some writing for this site, mostly in the form of the Daily Reflections.

    Small world, indeed!!!

    Mr. Bottaro’s influence on my life was similar to his influence on yours. I was actually his student when he died. One morning he was late to class (first period). Finally, a teacher came into the classroom and told us that he had died in the night. Then the teacher left. We sat there stunned, crying. (I actually took the teacher’s version of our textbook, marked up with his markings. I think it must still be in my mother’s attic in Glendale.) That was a pivotal day in my life. Mr. Bottaro was the teacher who encouraged me to go to Harvard, where I ended up. He taught me to think and to write. He inspired me more than any other teacher in my life.

    Anyway, I’m so glad I found your wonderful blog today!


    Mark Roberts

    Senior Advisor and Theologian-in-Residence
    Foundations for Laity Renewal

  23. Mark Roberts says

    Oops. Sorry. I meant to include my email: mroberts@laityrenewal.org

  24. The analogy of the vine and branches has always been one I loved, but more from the ‘grafted in’ perspective, not the pruning out. You’ve given me much to ponder on that aspect. Lots to think about. 

  25. pastordt says

    Wow, Mark. I am stunned to read all of this. Thanks so much for letting me know of all these wonderful connections! I’ve talked about Mr. B’s influence on my life in multiple settings, but never met a soul who’d ever heard of him. What a great experience to share. And I read many of your devotionals at Laity – and so does my eldest daughter, who actually told me about you in the first place. I am so appreciative of everyone and everything about THC – what a gift to the Christian blogging community. Small world indeed.

  26. pastordt says

    Thanks for stopping by, Carol. And I like the ‘grafted in’ picture, too. ‘Pruning’ has always been more difficult for me, but working through John in the last few years has helped me grapple with it a little bit better. And our pastor helped both my husband and me to think about in a more positive light than either of us had been raised to believe – that helped a lot!

  27. pastordt says

    You know, I don’t think I ever adequately told you how sorry I was to read about your tree! It’s tough to lose any tree, but one with such a heavy emotional valance – wow. And I agree – watching a skilled pruner really does help to inform this whole passage. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a note – I always love it when you do!

  28. Hazel Moon says

    I don’t suppose it hurts the vines to be pruned – – but it does hurt me.  Thanks God, I needed that even if it hurt a bit !!

  29. Holly Langton says

    What an incredible post! Such a wonderful way to look at life’s processes. There is much wisdom here!  Following you now from the Sisterhood hop. I hope you have time to stop over at my place.

  30. pastordt says

    Sometimes it really does hurt, doesn’t it, Hazel? But then most things worth doing cost us a little something along the way, I think.

  31. pastordt says

    Thanks for coming by, Holly! I’ve been on vacation this week with very intermittent internet availability, so I’ve not had a chance to do much visiting anywhere. But when I’m home again, I’ll take a peek at your spot. Thanks for your kind words here.