Friday, July 4, 2014

Dead Limbs, Lucille Clifton, and the State of My Soul

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. John 15:1-2
Yesterday morning, I decided to get out the ladder and trim a few dead branches I saw in a tree in our courtyard area. Once up there, I noticed more and more dead branches. Then I glanced to another set of trees at the side of the yard and saw work to be done there, too, so I dragged the ladder to that end of the yard and started snipping some more.
And more. And more. Small tips of deadness were revealed upon closer inspection as entire dead limbs. I was stunned at the size of the branches and how easily I could break them off when there was no life left in them. Shift the ladder again and again. More and more and more deadness. I kept having to shield my head from the wood falling down on me.
In college, I read a poem by Lucille Clifton:

at last we killed the roaches.
mama and me. she sprayed,
i swept the ceiling and they fell
dying onto our shoulders, in our hair
covering us with red. the tribe was broken,
the cooking pots were ours again
and we were glad, such cleanliness was grace
when i was twelve. only for a few nights,
and then not much, my dreams were blood
my hands were blades and it was murder murder
all over the place.
In my memory, those last couple lines were “death death / all over the place” . . . and those lines and that image were running through my head as I snapped leafless limbs from the tree branches above and around me and they came crashing down: “death . . . death . . . all over the place . . .”
And I wonder if that's how my Father the Gardener feels. He snips off one bit of deadness in my soul, only to reveal another. And another. Something that appears to me to be a small dry twig is in reality (as He knows) a monumental limb, branching off into many directions, entwining itself with other branches, even with other trees, requiring not just a simple snap but a hacksaw at the trunk, leaving a gaping, painful hole for a while until the healthy branches grow to fill in the space.
It shames me sometimes, this pruning. Death death, all over the place. But as Miz Lucille tells us, such cleanliness is grace.

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