Friday, August 13, 2010

Part 2 of The Azalea Chronicles

Part 2 of The Azalea Chronicles, in which I attempt to come through with the second part of what was purported to be a two-part post. There. And on to the topics at hand. How did my pruning attempts go; did I make any improvement in the looks of the front of our house; and most importantly of all, why is any of this worth blogging about? I shall attempt to answer.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I did pare down those azaleas, big time. To my daughters' horror, I lopped and cut and pruned them until they were mere shadows of their former selves. I sliced, diced and shredded (didn't mean to do that). I was a bit horrified myself as our lush, jungle-like azaleas were suddenly transformed into docile, mealy-mouthed bush sorts of things, but not even that--mostly just shy bare limbs of wood, with sprigs of green sticking out here and there just to show they were still alive. Here's a picture of the results.

Okay fine, this isn't me and these are not my azaleas. But the shocking denuding done to these is just the same shocking denuding that I did to mine. I just can't ever find my camera cord.

Now I understand that large, older shrubs like mine can be pretty much cut down to the nub, maybe six inches or so from the ground, and will come back just fine. I can't expect any blooms next spring--I lopped all those right off--but it should put out new growth, which I should definitely pay attention to in a timely manner so that the whole big overgrown thing doesn't happen again. So I may cut 'er down a little more, just to show 'er who's boss. And her children, too. (The several random trunks which surely were never planted on purpose). (Obviously I need to learn a bit more about botany or gardening.) The other tall shrub things are still just there, a little less tall, and maybe they need to be whacked down to 6 inches high as well, but I still need to consult a professional about all this. So all in all, it definitely looks different. Better? Don't know about that.

But here's the reason I'm even writing about all this on my blog. It's not because I'm looking to start posting gardening tips or lots of oh-so-humorous accounts of my day--no, the reason I wanted to write about it was because of the thought process that got started that day as I was whacking away at the azaleas. Any time I do any bit of gardening, which is usually just pulling a few weeds, the analogies start popping into my head and they are just so... analogous. Just so true and so helpful. So as I'm cutting severely away at this azalea, removing so much of it that it seemed I may end up killing the thing instead of improving it, I thought of John 15:1-8: "I am the true Vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch in me that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit."

So this is azalea, not grapes, and it's a matter of appearance, not fruit-bearing, so the analogy had to leave off what I was doing at some point. But still, I was imitating the work of a husbandman--taking away the branches that weren't pleasing to me, and didn't suit my desires. Mere aesthetic appearance, of course, is not nearly as important as a dead, fruitless branch. The silly problem of an azalea branch growing to the left when you need it to grow to the right is nothing compared to the seriousness of a branch apparently attached to the trunk, yet that just doesn't bear fruit. Something's really wrong with that branch, not just annoying. Something looks alive when really it's not. Something is proving by its lack of fruit that it's not really connected to the life of the vine.

And so here must come the Husbandman with his sharp blade. For this branch, the one described in John 15:1-8, it's not to prune, or to train back, or to improve an appearance. It's to remove. Perhaps he lifts up the branch once more, just to be sure. Perhaps he examines it one last time, searching in vain for the fruit that should be there. He is a long-suffering Husbandman and he is kind; he takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. But alas, there is no fruit, just like last time, just like every time before, and the time has come for the inevitable. He wields the knife; the fruitless branch is severed from whatever attachment it bore to the vine; it falls to the ground with a thud, and there it lies withering until at last it is gathered up with the other fruitless branches, thrown into a pile, and burned. This is the end of all such branches who profess a life in the Vine, who boast of their capabilities but who bear only lots and lots of foliage and no real evidence of their union to their Lord. It is a tragic thing. "Abide [remain] in me," commands our Lord, the True Vine of Israel, to the disciples (minus Judas) who huddle near him at the end: "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you" (John 15:16).

The Lord Jesus is not inviting the disciples to come hang out with him overnight. He's promising them that those who are in him in a regenerated way will bear fruit ("If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.") It's one of those many puzzling places in the Bible where we are commanded to do what we cannot do (think Jesus to Nicodemus, "You must be born again"). None of the disciples can manage by self-effort this kind of abiding; none of them can make themselves become attached to Jesus in a life-giving way, none of them can simply will fruit to pop out, none of them have any hope of asking whatever they wish for and having it happen. But Jesus can do it. He can give life; he can cause abiding, and growth and fruit; he can so transform their minds by his abiding word in them that their wish is his command.

Enough already; a long post, longer than people (according to statistics) are willing to read on a blog post, so if you've read this far, congratulations, you're not a statistic. I still didn't talk about a lot of other analogies I thought about as I pruned the azaleas, about how severe his pruning of the fruit-bearing boughs must sometimes be, about how it seems like some pruning could be the death of one yet. You draw those analogies. I'll just leave it at this--I think God wants his people to know a little something about gardening. And I think he wants us to see that he is the Husbandman who will do what is right; he is the Master Gardener of us all.

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