12/26/2012 11:51 am ET Updated Feb 25, 2013

Trimming the Vines for the New Year

This is the first weekly post of "Dr. Norris J. Chumley Satisfied Life (tm)" appearing each Wednesday on the topic of Healthy Living with Spirit.

It is deep winter and it has been very cold up north. There is lots of snow on the ground; ice on the roads and sidewalks make moving treacherous. The trees are bare. The birds are searching non-stop for scarce seeds. The garden is long dormant; the stalks and herbs all frost-bitten and long fallen.

We had a very rare breeze of warmth the other day, a few days before the New Year. It was 50 degrees on the mountain, in the dead of winter! Thanks to clouds that moved enough to let some rays shine through, the snow and ice were melting -- the runoff water was flowing.

In our sleeping garden my straggly grape vines hung all intertwined in the fence, unruly and overgrown. So many days of cold and harsh north winds had kept me away from a job I knew would mean frozen fingers, windburn and the risk of rushed over-cutting. I should have pruned two or three months ago, but I just didn't have time or desire for such a big no-fun job. Yet, if I did not prune them, we wouldn't have many grapes come summer. If I put it off much longer, the canes would soon begin to bud and it would be too late. Truth be told, I didn't prune at all last year, and the grapes were a mess: too many vines, few grapes and resultant fungus did them in. These are special and beloved vines: My sons and I planted them many years ago.

So I seized the moment on that mild winter afternoon, with a balmy front of rain and snow to come that night. There wasn't a moment to spare. With resurrected summer garden gloves on and sheers in hand, I set forth to cut out the old and bring in the new. Totally unexpected, the pruning of the vines became my lesson for the New Year.

The overgrown and intertwined branches made me think of times I'd been overly ambitious, stretching too far, trying to do too many things, wasting time and money and being self-centered. I was tangled-up and needed pruned discipline: one clear path that would lead to the priority. Not a bunch of paths that led me to things and places unimportant. Snipping the dozens of side branches, focusing on the main trunk and retaining only the primary canes inspired me to focus on what I do best -- loving God and doing my best to do His will. I also needed to prioritize making a living, supporting my family by teaching, writing and helping others. I made a pile to burn the old branches and canes, some even withered and dead. I asked my Higher Power for forgiveness for my old fruitless actions and mistakes. Then, I forgot about everything unimportant.

I trusted that the remaining vines, cut to the very quick, would indeed bud once spring arrived. I said a prayer internally, "God, thank you," and a prayer for the grape vines, trusting that they would survive the remaining deep-freezes, springing anew with new grapes to eat and juice to drink. What I had dreaded as a no-fun job became something I loved. The big old trunks were ugly and bare now, but the possibility of the sprouting delicate green buds and fertile hanging grapes to come was enlivening.

No wonder grapes and grapevines are holy. They teach us so many stories. They are mentioned throughout the Bible, in both the Hebrew and Christian Bible as symbols of fertility, trust in God and the hope of the Promised Land. In Genesis 6 and 9, Noah is symbolically the first human to cultivate grape vines, but then drinks too much fermented juice becoming drunk. Vineyards awaited the Israelites across the Jordan River holding promise for abundance; Moses receives grapes from his scouts in Numbers 13:23. Grapes and wine were sacrifices in Leviticus and Exodus. Passover celebrations with family and friends feature wines that are blessed, symbolizing freedom and the promise of new lands and lives.

Christians remember and internalize Jesus Christ's gifts of redemption and salvation from the Last Supper in Matthew 26, by the eating of unleavened bread as His body and the drinking of wine, as His blood. His first miracle was turning water into wine at a wedding at Cana in Galilee in John 2. In the grape, there is salvation.

Pruning of the grape vines was a major teaching of Christ, symbolizing the presence of God in the vineyard and the importance of caring and active maintenance of a physical and spiritual life.

So this New Year, I look back on my pruning experience and feel even closer to God, cleansed and purged, satisfied by a job well done, just in time. I cut away the old, non-producing dead vines leaving only the most important bearers of true fruit. Unfettered and unencumbered by the old, I branch forth anew -- just like my holy vines.

I will lift a glass of sparkling wine (but only one), sharing a moment of peaceful joy with friends and family to bring in the New Year. I am profoundly thankful for the fruitful blooms of life to come.