Suffering as Pruning
By John Taylor; 2011 May 09, Jamal 12, 168 BE
"Men who suffer not, attain no perfection. The plant most pruned by the gardeners is that one which, when the summer comes, will have the most beautiful blossoms and the most abundant fruit. ... The more a man is chastened, the greater is the harvest of spiritual virtues shown forth by him." (Abdu'l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 50)
This was our morning reading today, and 11 year-old Thomas asked what it meant. I recalled a recent meeting with Cornelius, a farmer who has been attending our firesides and my Philosopher's Cafe in Wainfleet.
I asked Cor to look at our overgrown grape vine, which has spread all over the tall, eastern trellis of our deck, and even up into the eavestrough and the roof. Its fruits last year were small and so tart and strong in taste that they were inedible. As Cor hacked away at the vines, he dramatized the effect of pruning on the plant. He said,
"If you do it right, and chop off enough branches at the right places, the plant says to itself, `Oh my God, this is terrible. I may die from this.' So instead of expending energy to grow more branches and leaves, it decides to produce fruit as fast as it can. It does that so that if, as it thinks is happening, it soon dies, at least its genes will have a chance to live on through some of the fruits that it produces right away."
Thomas was unimpressed. For him, the purpose of these grapes is to attract the raccoons, which come in the dead of night every year to eat, often hanging upside down on our clothesline, as we photograph them and the dog works itself into a fit of mad barking. "If there are fewer grapes," Thomas worried, "People are liable to eat them first, and we will have less fun." Less fun, I would add, at three A.M. on a school night.
It depends on who is benefiting. Human suffering is terrible and pointless from the point of view of our good here and now, but it moves us to bear the fruit of a love that transcends what can be appreciated at the present moment. And that divine love is the whole point of life.