Tending One’s Own Vineyard

In many parts of the world, including the United States, there is a growing desire to eat food grown from seeds that were not genetically modified, i.e., non-GMO foods. Much of this food is organic. Monsanto, as well as other companies, make seeds that are genetically modified to resist the commonly used herbicide Round-Up. Plus, there are other common genetic modifications that impact crop yield, disease resistance, and shelf life of crops once harvested. Among the various problems encountered by non-GMO and organic farmers is that their fields can be contaminated when pollen from genetically modified crops is blown by the wind or carried by bees and birds into the non-GMO fields. When this occurs, the law and subsequent court decisions all fall in favor of Monsanto and other major companies in agribusiness. Even when a farmer plants non-GMO crops, if evidence is found of genetically modified plants in the field, the farmer may need to pay fees to Monsanto for planting trademarked crops. Even when a buffer zone is planted as required by the laws on organic farming, pollen drift still occurs. Among the results of pollen drift is that between .5 and 2% of organic corn grown in the US is contaminated from genetically modified plants. (http://www.rodalenews.com/research-feed/organic-vs-monsanto-organic-farmers-lose-right-protect-crops)

While there is a social justice issue at the heart of the tension between agribusiness and non-GMO and organic farmers, this example makes it quite clear that even when tending one’s own garden or vineyard, what other individuals plant can impact your garden, and vice-versa. The ways in which I care for the soil of my garden, water and fertilize the plants, and pick the produce is not just about me but affects those around me. The results can be both short term and long term.

Tending one’s own garden or vineyard is a metaphor often found in Christian spiritual literature. Recently, I came across this quote from The Dialogues of St. Catherine of Siena:

“Keep in mind that each of you has your own vineyard. But everyone is joined to your neighbor’s vineyards without any dividing lines. They are so joined together, in fact, that you cannot do good or evil for yourself without doing the same for your neighbors.”

Living in the 14th Century, Catherine was an advisor to royalty in Europe and several popes. She traveled widely and eventually began to dictate letters to scribes that were collected and distributed among her many followers. Her book, The Dialogues, is a series of deep spiritual reflections in which Catherine frequently uses nature as a source of recollection.

Catherine encourages her readers to tend their own vineyard: to sow seeds of loving-kindness, to tend with patience, to fertilize with mercy and compassion, and to allow the growth of beauty in the vineyard to inspire us. But Catherine is also clear that there are no real dividing lines between one’s own vineyard and that of one’s neighbors. Whatever is sown, whether it is good or evil, will take root in one’s own garden and will also pollinate the gardens of others.

Let me explain something about how this works. Perhaps a person uses meditation as something of a refuge from the stresses and strains of life. Meditation becomes the oasis in the midst of trouble. While meditation leads to a calming state, our friend in this example may not be using meditation to release the sources of anger: the expectation that situations or people will be different. Instead, our friend finishes meditation with the self-centered preoccupation that others shouldn’t intrude on the sense of inner peace. Of course, it doesn’t take long for inner peace to be lost because others will simply never meet our expectations. Our friend quickly becomes enraged. Walking down the street, our friend yells at a senior for being too slow, gives the left handed salute to a person crossing in front of him, and shoves a mother attempting to tie a small child’s shoe. Rather than actually sowing an interior garden of peace, our friend has set the conditions for internal discord using a poorly developed approach to meditation. The result is that our friend is going around making both his life and the lives of other people more difficult. How tragic is that?

Catherine reminds us to tend the vineyard of our interior life in such a way that nourishes the fruit and beauty not only in within usbut in the world around us. If we properly tend the vineyard of our interior lives, we do improve the quality of the world. It will impact the lives of others.

Ultimately, the dynamics of the spiritual dimension of life aren’t really much different from any other aspect of life. If we tend the vineyard of our interior lives well, the pollen will spread to others.

© 2015, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

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