Pruning down to Love

“Jesus said to his disciples:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower.
He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit,
and every one that does he prunes so that it bears more fruit.
You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.
Remain in me, as I remain in you.” (Jn 15: 1-3)

Jesus uses the imagery of vines and branches that remain, grow, and are pruned to talk about life in God. Not many of us grow vines any more, but the agricultural imagery would have been more familiar in Jesus’s own time. Here, Jesus sets up a series of relationships: those who remain in Christ are part of a larger vine, branches on a vine. But remaining in Christ is also about Christ remaining in each person. There is an interconnectedness of being that speaks of an underlying unity.

I find this to be beautiful imagery of the idea of union with God. St Teresa of Avila spoke of different degrees of union with God in prayer. Although they are sometimes spoken about as stages, the experiences can be quite varied. However, they are all about a kind of union with God in love that is found through a deepening of interior life, and a discovery that God is in the “innermost chamber” of one’s own being. This is not to say that one is God, any more than a branch is the Gardener or even the Vine, but rather that the being of the Vine—upon which the branch depends for its existence—infuses everything that the branch is. This union of the branches to the Vine also shows us that all people are also united to one another, not through a unity of absolute identity, but through a unity in Christ.

Pruning is an activity that gardeners undertake in order to care for their plants. If a large vine is left to grow wild, eventually it won’t bear any fruit, because all the energy is expended on growing new leaves. Pruning helps to re-orient the energy of the vine into bearing fruit. Our own experiences of being pruned by God are also like this. One of the most important ways that God can prune us is by removing aspects of a “false” sense of self that stand in the way of knowing this true, underlying self that is interconnected to God and to others in God.

For example, a person who thinks that winning the lottery will make him happy has a a false view of himself and does not recognize himself as a creature of Love who is made to love. He not only is mistaken about the value of money. He is mistaken about who he really is, and places his identity outside of himself and God into money.

This can be true of other goods, too, for example, relationships (marriages, friendships, family relationships). The pruning of relationships is a little more complex, because Love really is at the heart of life in God. But relationships also can be in need of being pruned down to genuine love, rather a love that is encumbered by the unwieldy growth of false views. For example, thinking that another person’s actions can make me fundamentally happy places false expectations on him or her. It’s not true that others’ actions have very much to do with my interior joy or lack of it. Rather, other people’s actions and how they affect me have a lot more to do with my own belief systems, my cognitions, and how I respond to my own ways of thinking. This is why one person can be so irate at another person who cuts them off while driving, and another person shrugs her shoulders and says, “ah, well, he must be having a bad day.”

Genuine love cares only for the good of the other and finds its origin and energy in the more fundamental Love that grounds all other loves. That interior Love transforms all of our other loves and relationships, to people, to the natural world, to all that is the object of care. As we allow God to transform our desires, the Divine Gardener prunes us of extraneous, wild, unwieldy growth so that we are pruned down to Love itself.