Gentle comparison of the care of grapevines to the process of spiritual growth brings a balance of practicality and sincerity to spiritual advice.
In The Vinedresser’s Notebook, Benedictine sister Judith Sutera masterfully explains the growth process and intricate tending of grapevines and relates these to the development of a person’s spiritual and human natures. Sutera draws on her forty years of experience as the caretaker of her monastery’s garden to describe in easily understandable yet profound ways the intricacies of the relationship needed between the vinedresser and the vines. Although grapevines are frequently used as spiritual metaphors, especially in Christianity and Judaism, Sutera skillfully avoids being overtly religious and makes her analogies and explanations equally applicable to a person of faith or one of no particular faith. Her teachings are life lessons that are concise, practical, and thought provoking.
The Vinedresser’s Notebook relies on the writings and sketches that Sutera originally intended as a personal reference source for herself and anyone who may work with her. Throughout the book, pieces of conversations with her mentor provide insightful glimpses into the depths of the vinedressers’ love, respect, and devotion to the painstaking process of seeing the fragile plants reach maturity. Sutera then weaves these physical learnings in with spiritual applications.
Sutera excels in her ability to present both the positive aspects of vinedressing—the tender care of the young plant, for example—and ones that on first sight appear to be negative—like the constant pruning of good and bad branches—with equal honesty and sincerity. “It’s easy to cut dead or misshapen branches but very hard to sacrifice the perfectly healthy for the sake of the whole. However, if you aren’t decisive about what to cut, you’ll end up with a tangled mess.”
The power of Sutera’s book is that it really isn’t about growing grapes; it’s about understanding the phases and nurturing involved in growing a life. Her illustrations and compassionate thoughts are encouraging and instructional, as if spoken by a personal mentor wanting only to help the student.
Beautiful drawings, simple sketches, and a smooth writing style blend together to make The Vinedresser’s Notebook a compelling work. As Sutera summarizes, “The spiritual yeast we ferment through our faith and spiritual practice is bubbling and transforming us all the time. It will take some time, but don’t interrupt the process.”
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