A vine produces the same variety of grape each season, and, while each grape will be slightly different, all will be basically the same.
“Although each of us is a separate entity,” writes Sister Judith Sutera, “we are all part of the same cluster, dangling from the same vine.
“We grow at different rates; we have different tones and size and sweetness; we drop off at different times. But still, we are part of a bunch. We are nourished by the same things, have the same desires, feel the same emotions, share the same type of body and blood.”
What the Benedictine surmises from this is just one of the lessons she learned from years of working in her monastery’s vineyard: “Perhaps if we were to look at others with this filter rather than the filter of how we are different we could change the world in ways both small and large.”
In “The Vinedresser’s Notebook: Spiritual lessons in pruning, waiting, harvesting and abundance,” Sister Judith pairs the work that it takes to dress the vines and produce wine at Mount St. Scholastica Monastery in Atchison, Kan., with what her book’s subtitle terms “spiritual lessons.” Of course they are spiritual lessons, but even more they’re life lessons, as the author intended, and one doesn’t have to be looking for anything religious to benefit from the wisdom shared. While biblical references to the vine and the branches and the workers in the vineyard come naturally in the text, this book is simply great advice for being a happy, fruitful, fulfilled person.
Starting with sketches she’d made year ago of the steps in the vine dressing process — not tasks for those with little patience or an aversion to hard work, by the way — Sister Judith added explanations, intellectual reflections and infrequently scriptural references, all with the sagacity and spirituality one might expect from someone with degrees in psychology and sociology and master’s degrees in counseling and monastic theology.
The connections she makes are tangible.
Just as she had to learn the craft of vine dressing from a mentor, the then 70-year-old Sister Jeannette Obrist, people are wise to seek the advice from others so that they too can learn and grow.
Just as vines need to be pruned in a balanced way to produce more fruit, people require a balance of criticism and praise to become healthy individuals.
Just as to find the ripest grapes at harvest time one has to look under some leaves, people need to look very hard and frequently change their point of view to find and appreciate life’s many gifts.
There are plenty more like comparisons in this easy reading, 159-page pocket- or purse-friendly Abingdon Press paperback. There are as many lessons in living a fruitful life as there is information about growing grapes. In combination, though, Sister Judith wrote that she hoped her book “will help others to love a plant, love the miracles of life, love themselves and others.”
Illustrations by Paul Soupiset and hand-lettered vine dressing advice just add to the charm.
FURTHER WISDOM FROM THE VINEYARD AND SISTER JUDITH SUTERA, OSB
* (About mentoring) “Even more important than what is learned is making the deep connection with a person who actually cares about you, listens to you and answers your questions.”
* “It’s never too late for a little conversion and forgiveness. We can never know how others got to be the way they are. We can only try to believe that they are doing the best they can with what they have. This is the filter that will enable us to see the glimmer of goodness and purity within them and treat them accordingly.”
* “A healthy life requires a balance of self-expression and discipline. No one benefits from never being denied anything or experiencing the consequences of negative behavior.”
* “You can’t choose where you came from, only where you end up.”
* “Leaving myself open for the next ‘better offer’ means never being fully open to what is right here now.”
* “A little bit of self-control or spiritual discipline will add up in the reserve that prepares me for life’s challenges. Small efforts to be more kind or generous build up until I have a storehouse of patience and love from which I can draw.”
* “Doing the next right thing moves me in the direction of a peaceful life.”
* “We are to be about the harvest and not the foliage.”
* “Good growth takes attention, dedication and time.”
* “Love and responsibility are the trellises that hold us up and move us in the right direction.”
* “We get set in our ways, and to truly change requires tremendous focus and effort. We all know that old negative habits are hard to break. We may not realize an action is becoming a habit until it is so ingrained that it feels as if we cannot live any other way.”
* “Even the slightest effort toward a right choice means that it will be easier next time. As I achieve more happiness from the results of my exercise or practice or prayer, and get into the habit of doing it consistently, I will find it hard to imagine living any other way.”
* “Love and belonging are not for the lazy, the indifferent or the unmotivated. Love is a lot of work, but a work that we take on willingly and even eagerly. It is a motivator surpassing any other, enabling us to be greater and happier than we ever imagined we could be.”
* “We can never be sure of what the harvest will be until it has happened. Sometimes the greatest gifts or the most powerful lessons aren’t the ones we initially thought they would be.”
* “Even when you think you’re doing everything right, things can still go wrong.”
* “The truths and happiness of life will rarely just fall into our laps. . . . Each of us must tend our vines.”