there once was a man who planted a vine...
So begins this rhythmical, festive children’s book about the joy of a farmer and his little daughter as they work their vineyard and offer the fruit of the vine back to their Creator in Eucharistic celebration. The vibrant images—reminiscent of vineyards in the American west—sparkle in light-saturated, warm jewel-tones and provide the perfect backdrop for the story of a man in love with the earth and his labor, and equally in love with his God.
the story behind the story
Never has a story been such a joy for me to tell…
I was driving home, exhausted and alone, from a long meeting in Northern California. I had five hours of highway in front of me, and my mind was flooded with talk of books from the previous two days of meetings. I prayed, “Lord, I’ve wanted to write a book for Orthodox children for so long, please enlighten me with something, anything…”
I looked to my left and admired the rows and rows of newly planted grape vines that snaked up and down the scrubby foothills. Only minutes later, a song sprang to my mind, and with no one around to laugh or jeer at me, except for the angels who were probably egging me on, I began to sing.
After an hour or so the singing really was getting out of hand. I was thanking God for his faithfulness, and laughing, and singing at the top of my lungs, and probably a hazard to the few other drivers out there… So I stopped in a funny little town called Greenfield, at the taqueria, where a Mexican soap opera dominated the room. Despite the noise, the song stuck and I wrote this down:
There was a man and a vine
He planted the vine and he watered the vine and the vine grew.
And the earth and the blue and the cool of the night
And the heat of the day and the rain from the sky—they helped the vine to grow the grape
And the man helped the vine.
The vine grew tall and the vine grew wide and there grew a grape…
The grape grew fat and tugged on the vine
And the man began to think of the wine.
The man cut the vine and he crushed the grape and the grape flowed red and sweet…
The man blessed the wine and remembered the vine and the cup was raised to the sky.
And the child took the cup and the wine filled the child—and the Lord came into the cup—
And she kissed the cup and the man and his vine…
That’s as far as I got. The melody of the song was so strong in my mind, and as I traveled the rest of the way home the words continued to form themselves into a story. The next day, after resting from my trip I had an entire rough draft, and then weeks later, after really diving into research on the rubrics of the wine in the Eucharist, and speaking with my priest, I had a passable text.
Of course, God had set me up for this story. I have always loved the earth, the planting of things, and even studied to be, and worked as a landscape architect. My father is French Basque, and when I was young our family owned a European marketplace of sorts, that included a 10,000 bottle wine shop--so wine, and the growing of wine, and the drinking of wine, is not foreign to me. Plus, I was blessed to live in Italy, where several times I helped in the harvesting of grapes –la vendemmia–for my friends’ families who owned small vineyards… And lastly, I’m Orthodox! So communion is foremost in our theology, and there is such beauty, mystery, and so many miracles in that communion cup. I love this story about the man and his vine; it’s not my story, really, this one, it’s dedicated to the Holy Spirit who brought words to my lips, and to the holy angels, who, despite my boisterous singing, kept me from driving off the road that day…