The Joy of Wine!

Wine feeds our embodied souls! If you like wine as much as I do, I have a book for you to read. So let us rejoice in God’s largesse, God’s cornucopia of goodness toward us, as we raise a glass of pinotage and toast “to life!” Well, after my South African friends John and Isobel de Gruchy had come into my life, but before we had actually broken bread together, I was on holiday at the nearby Virginia resort of Wintergreen. And at dinner one evening in their lovely dining room off of the golf course called Devil’s Knob (seriously), I was introduced to a South African red wine called pinotage – a blended red of some sort and wonderfully smooth. After that, as I became more familiar with the country through reading and through conversation with someone at St. John’s who had spent the better part of a year there, I learned that in fact South Africa – especially around the area where I have now just visited – is known for its wonderful wineries.

And so sure enough, while I was in South Africa visiting my friends recently, John and I spent the morning of his birthday visiting one of the wineries called Creation – not far from Volmoed (which I introduced to you in my last blog or two). The first two photos with this blog, beginning with the one at left, were taken while we were at that winery sampling their “creations” – lovely whites and reds. And I did wind up purchasing our two favorites for additional birthday presents for John and also to replenish his wine rack which held bottles we had helped ourselves to during my visit. The closeup of John in the first photo gives one view of the inside of the winery’s tasting room, and the one of me gives a little more view of the room’s rich interior – brick walls and all.

Which brings me to the third photo – the cover of a book that I am reading by Gisela Kreglinger titled The Spirituality of Wine. As the back cover explains, Kreglinger grew up on a winery in Franconia, Germany – one that had been in her family for generations. She also has a Ph.D. in theology from the University of St. Andrews and is now a full-time writer on topics of spirituality. The third and last photo in this series is the cover of this fascinating book.

If you like wine, which I and my friends do, then this is a book you do not want to miss. The author covers the topic exhaustively, tracing the cultivation and drinking of wine with its celebration in the Hebrew and Christian Bible, but with a history extending back into ancient, pre-literate millennia. As a Christian theologian, Kreglinger also traces wine’s use within the history of the Church up to the modern era (including during Prohibition in this country), focusing on the central place of wine in the Eucharistic celebration at the Lord’s Supper. She quotes the 4th-century doctor of the church, St. Augustine, who said that “in many instances wine is necessary for human beings. Wine strengthens the stomach, renews one’s energy, warms the body of the cold-blooded, poured onto wounds it brings healing. It chases away sadness and weariness of soul. Wine brings joy, and for companions it fuels one’s pleasure for conversations.”

Kreglinger also includes a chapter on wine’s physical benefits among which there are many, as well as the abuse of wine and stronger alcoholic spirits. Along these lines, she quotes Saint Chrysostom, an eloquent speaker and theologian in the early Church: “Wine was given to make us cheerful, not to make us behave shamefully; to make us laugh, not a laughing-stock; to make us healthy, not sick; to mend the weakness of the body, not to undermine the soul.” All things in moderation, from food to drink to all other human activities including work and exercise, yes?

Underneath all of Kreglinger’s writing here is an underlying theology that is fundamentally holistic, anti-dualistic, and incarnational. She makes her theological point most eloquently when talking about the Eucharistic feast where all people are fed at God’s table, communally sharing the bread and wine as one, feasting on God’s good gift of God’s self – first and foremost incarnated in Jesus Christ and God’s salvation through his life, death, and resurrection, and relived and re-experienced every time we partake of this holy ritual. She says:

We receive spiritual sustenance through our physical and communal sharing in the Eucharist, by walking to the altar to stand or kneel, by opening our hands and our mouths to receive the physical matter of bread and wine. We chew, we taste [“taste and see how the Lord is good”], we listen, and we swallow. We digest. The Lord’s Supper, central to our lives as Christians, is a wholly physical and communal experience. It calls to our mind, our sense, and our imagination to receive Christ and his work on the cross as a living presence in bread and wine, the fruit of the very earth that God made. This is a profoundly embodied and thus sensual experience and anchors our spirituality in creation …

… The Judeo-Christian faith has always held that God not only created this good world but also chose to manifest his glory in it. He reveals himself in and through creation and not apart from it. … God meets us in physical matter and our embodied and communal lives. As we bring ourselves, including our bodies, and as we bring the fruits of the earth in bread and wine (which includes our participation in labor and creativity in its production), God sanctifies them and meets us in bread and wine. (p. 67)

This book is a delight to read, and I believe that if you do so, it will deepen your own grasp of the deep significance of not only the embodied ritual of participating in the Eucharistic celebration, but also in the way we move through the world – whole embodied creatures created by God to delight in God’s feast – here with one another in community whether around the sacred space of dinner table or altar, and at the final Feast foretold in scripture and our tradition. Wine does indeed feed our embodied souls, so let us rejoice in God’s largesse, God’s cornucopia of goodness toward us, as we raise a glass of pinotage and toast “to life!