Branch Sunday is approaching, that spring celebration of fruitfulness in stories I tell about orchardists who place their excess tree prunings on the altar to praise God with the beauty of the forced blooms.
For years I convinced Tuesday mass attendees at the St. Louis Catholic Worker that it was a real feast. I brought the branches from the Worker orchard in late February with instructions to put them in water in a warm spot in the house.
I pruned two apricot trees a couple of weeks ago and the wood is in full bloom in our dining room window. Apricots bud along the wood, not on stems like apples and pears. They are white with a delicate purple base and a faint scent to draw the bees.
My understanding of contemplation is losing oneself in the experience of the other who is God. To prune a fruit tree one must contemplate it -- stand in front of it and see it. Clip off all the water sprouts that grow straight up. Remove branches that have grown across other stronger limbs. Study the angle of new shoots, cutting off those narrow angled ones that will break with the weight of the fruit.
Imagine that half-grown fruit and the fully leafed tree. Sun should shine down through the leaves, dappling the ground. Prune to give the promised fruit air and sun. Finally, clip the ends of branches to shape the tree and stimulate new growth.
Is this care of a tree prayer? It is a simple engagement with the other in which I lose myself. So, yes, it’s prayer.