Farewell, my dove!

by Elouise

Vitis vinifera Frankenthaler

Do you know when and how to prune a grapevine? George MacDonald wrote this sonnet in August, when grape leaves often begin dropping naturally, hopefully exposing clumps of ripe grapes. My comments follow his sonnet.

August 10

True, faithful action only is the life,
The grapes for which we feel the pruning knife.
Thoughts are but leaves; they fall and feed the ground.
The holy seasons, swift and slow, go round;
The ministering leaves return, fresh, large, and rife –
But fresher, larger, more thoughts to the brain –
Farewell, my dove! Come back, hope-laden, through the rain.

George MacDonald, Diary of an Old Soul
Augsburg Fortress Press 1994

This morning I sorted through yet more files of notes, letters, petitions, recommendations, minutes of meetings and memos. Remnants of my life as dean at a seminary. Every now and then I found a gem, but on the whole, my files are rife with stuff that doesn’t belong to this season of my life.

As I sorted and tossed, I told myself, “This is not my life! This is not my stuff!” Just saying it out loud helped me pick out a select pile of potentially juicy grapes that might feed my writing in this “holy season” of my life. Holy because the source of my life is God, not my thoughts, dreams, plans or potentially juicy grapes.

As for the things I’m tossing? They amount to overgrown, large and potentially harmful grape leaves. They close in like large leaves that shut out light and air. Hemming me in and weighing me down. Diminishing my fruitfulness in this season of my life.

George MacDonald was a creative, prolific writer. I imagine his mind as a labyrinth or maze full of small chambers with twists and turns. Alive with ideas and images nurtured by his lifelong practice of reading, observing, listening and immersing himself in his rich, difficult inner and outer life.

MacDonald didn’t have a vineyard. He had paper, a pen and time to write, thanks in part to his chronic consumption (tuberculosis). His letters, books, poems and other writings were a large part of his faithful action, his product, his grapes. Imagine how much he pruned, how many ideas and images he let go so he could complete a single writing project.

A timely if painful pruning knife helps ensure the best possible product for harvest. This isn’t true simply of life as God’s beloved daughters and sons, but of our thoughts and creative ideas. Like “fresh, large, and rife leaves,” they can overwhelm even our best attempts at “faithful action,” whether writing or some other creative endeavor.

I wonder about the transition between MacDonald’s 6th and last lines. Is he uneasy at the thought of all those beautiful, life-giving new leaves that will gradually take over the grapevine if they aren’t pruned? Or does he relish the idea of yet another season of writing, even though it includes painful pruning?

Perhaps because he’s been here before, MacDonald trusts his faithful dove will return when the season is right, “hope-laden, through the rain.” His sonnet encourages me as a writer and as a mortal human being to let go of things over which I have no control. When the season is right and the spring rains begin, all will be set for yet another harvest, painful though the growing season may be.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 12 March 2016
Photo found at 99roots.com