Dear Friends

Welcome to the month of February. It’s hard to think that our modest celebration of Christmas was just over a month ago coupled with the ongoing tightening Covid-19 Tier rules and recent Omicron Variant of Covid-19. But we have reached the gift of this month with gratefulness.

February was named after a ritual like an early Roman spring cleaning festival. Another view of February was purification. It was a month to prepare for the spring season: bringing the promise of longer days in the Northern hemisphere. That brings to mind the word ‘preparation’, getting ourselves ready for purification. To extend the Christian metaphor, we exchange the word ‘purification’ for ‘pruning’ by the Divine Gardener, who prunes in order to make our lives more fruitful and productive for the ‘Spring season’ of our lives.

The 15th chapter of John’s Gospel cites: “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the Gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.”

We have no access to spiritual fruitfulness except through the careful and relentless pruning. We are in effect grafted to Jesus Christ, the Vine, where His divine life begins to flow in us and through us. We are partakers (rather than idle bystanders) of the divine nature. The pruning (or purification) process – cutting away the thing that hinder or prevent our growth – provides for a continuous conversion in which we are converted from the irrelevant to the relevant, from being just busy to being fruitful. The Divine Gardener knows that it is possible to have the most luxuriant growth with no fruit. The useless non-fruit bearing growth – the suckers that take life’s energy but give no fruit – must be cut away.

It is vital that we see this process of pruning in positive terms, for a negative attitude can greatly hinder the purposes of the Divine Gardener. The shears or knife, which cut away at the non-fruit bearing growth, are held in the hands, not of an angel, nor an archangel, but in the hands of our loving heavenly Father. “I am the True Vine”, said Jesus, “and my Father is the Gardener”. Whatever needs to be done in our life, we’re well cared for! Our Father is the Gardener.

Loss and frustration are sometimes instruments of pruning faced in our daily lives. Coming out of the long term financial effects of the pandemic in the Claydons and across Buckingham only to see it triggered by another variant, one wonders if this will ever stop. That is a question I cannot answer. I suspect the ongoing frustration, government restrictions, cancelled holidays and job insecurity feel like a cramp on our personal circumstances, finances, well-being and survival. But admittedly, the good Lord takes a hand in our affairs and gently squeezes us in order to get our attention more firmly fixed on him.

Someone, in a difficult financial situation, once shared: “whenever he permits his spiritual affections to wander, God knows how to bring him to heel. He dries up the flow of finances. It is not long before he is back at His feet, pouring out his heart to Him in prayer. The outcome is not a lesser financial position, but a greater enriched personal faithfulness open to God’s pruning.” This can be tantamount to a change in character, change in attitude, better relationships and, occasionally, a reversal of fortunes. Sometimes, the result allows us to see our desperate needs in a different light inviting a change of perspective and greater openness to spiritual growth and transformation.

According to Henry Ward Beecher, “Adversity, if for no other reason, is of benefit since it is sure to bring a season of sober reflection. We see clearer at such times. Storms purify the atmosphere.” Relevant words in desperate times.”

Permit me to share a daily reflection for this month: “God of creation, Divine Gardener, whose glory is around and within us: open our eyes to your wonders after we have been pruned. This is in order to make us ready for growth in the Spring season of our lives and serve you with reverence through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Stay blessed with love

Reverend Rickey Simpson-Gray

Parish of the Claydons