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The Spirituality of Wine

by

Gisela H. Kreglinger

In my lifetime I have not paid much attention to the presence of wine in the stories in the Bible. Other than perhaps the metaphor of the vine and branches (John 15:5) and the establishment of the Eucharist at the Last Supper(Matt 26:26-27), I have not spent time considering the entanglement of vines, grapes and wine in the Story. But thanks to Gisela H. Kreglinger , author of The Spirituality of Wine, a fresh vintage of meaning, metaphor and imagery has been made available on this subject. Kreglinger grew up on a generations-old family-owned winery in Germany and holds a PhD in historical theology from the University of St Andrews. Because of the blending of these of two callings in her life she became increasingly aware that the understanding of the spirituality of wine has suffered much in recent decades, particularly in the West. To help remedy that situation, Kreglinger has brought the ancient narrative of grape-growing (viticulture) and wine-crafting (viniculture) out of the scriptural shadows and placed it squarely in view of the Christian community. She does this as one whose youth was spent within a holistic, Christian-home atmosphere where energy-laced devotion was needed to tend to the family’s vineyards. The Spirituality of Wine is a fascinating account of wine and its beneficial place in the Christian landscape.

Kreglinger’s approach to the spirituality of wine is derived from her deep-seated belief about the goodness of the Creator and creation. She says: “As we begin to explore the theme of wine in the Bible, we need to keep this great community of God’s creation in mind…We will understand God’s redeeming purposes in much broader ways when we re-envision ourselves within this larger community and realize that wine is first of all a lavish gift of an incredibly generous, loving, and forgiving giver.”

Some subjects covered in The Spirituality of Wine are: “Wine in the History of the Church: Its Rise and Fall,” “Wine in the Lord’s Supper: Christ Present in Wine,” “Technology, Spirituality and Wine.

Kreglinger is thorough in her presentation of the story of wine in the Bible, showing repeatedly that wine is God’s gift and that its presence in the Story is interpreted by God’s people as a sign of God’s blessing. She also notes that there are times when God directs abstinence from wine for certain people and occasions (Lev), and that there are warnings against the over-use and abuse of wine (Prov), but that primarily wine is seen as a good thing (Gen, Ps, Jer, Prov), that it brings joy, that it is useful for its medicinal properties and that it is a sign of God’s abundant provision for God’s people.

Though it is not a big focus of this book, Kreglinger does address the issue of alcohol dependency in a chapter named: “Wine and the Abuse of Alcohol.” She calls on the Church to “do more than help individuals manage their addictive behaviors and disorders. While the church has always had a calling to bring healing to the sick…its calling is much greater. It must always remember its identity as the body of Christ and become the good leaven that seeks to transform its surroundings…”

Kreglinger has divided The Spirituality of Wine into two parts. Here is her summary of Part I: “Sustenance”: “The first part of this book explores and draws out the scriptural and theological foundations of the spirituality of wine. From Genesis to the book of Revelation, the theme of wine features prominently in Scripture… Exploring this theme opens up a vision of the Christian life that is far more encompassing and encourages us to reconsider our own place in the great community of God’s creation.” Kreglinger describes Part II: “Sustainability,” in this manner: ” The second part of this book builds on the first part and seeks a mutually enriching dialogue between Christian spirituality and the world of wine… Can the experience and wisdom of the vintner shed light on and deepen our understanding of wine and help us grasp more fully the potent scriptural metaphors from the realm of wine for the Christian life?”

Kreglinger, as a wise writer, helps us to “grasp more fully the potent scriptural metaphors from the realm of wine for the Christian life” when she retells the story of Babette’s Feast for us. Using the 1987 Academy Award winning movie version of Babette’s Feast as an illustration, Kreglinger brings her insights from the world of wine into play as she explains the beauty of this perceptive tale of grace and forgiveness from a vintner’s vantage point. It is fitting and salutary that Kreglinger locates her rendering in the section of the book called “The Recovery of Joyful Redemptive Feasting.” This remarkable and deeply moving chapter is pure gold, and is worth your time and attention.

In The Spirituality of Wine there are also many startling episodes of wine-and-faith-related events taken from scripture. One that Kreglinger returns to frequently is Jesus’ first miracle, the changing of water into wine at Cana. The following is Kreglinger’s sharing of the Cana story from the section of the book called “Wine and Communal Feasting”: “It is striking that Jesus’ first miracle happens in the context of a joyous and lavish feast at Hebrew wedding in Cana, where he turns water into wine (John 2:1-12). Why wasn’t his first recorded miracle a healing miracle or feeding the hungry by supernaturally multiplying bread? Did he not come to redeem the world? Why would he ‘waste’ his time partaking in an elaborate and long lasting family celebration (a Hebrew wedding could last up to seven days) when he could be out there fixing the world’s problems?… The prophets foretold that an abundance of wine would be a sign of God’s future redemption (Isaiah 25:6 ). In light of this expectation, Jesus’ first miracle at a Hebrew wedding is profoundly revealing. It suggests that, in Christ, God’s promises have come to fruition. An abundance of wine and joyful feasting will mark God’s blessing and redemption. Jesus, by transforming the scarcity of wine into an abundance of it, begins to fulfill these promises and expectations.”

I have touched on only a few of the veil-lifting aspects of The Spirituality of Wine. Gisela H. Kreglinger has written a superbly crafted book that would be perfect for a book club or small group fellowship to read and relish together over the course of many evenings. Here is a final note from The Spirituality of Wine:

“As Christians, we no longer look at wine as a secular matter but learn to receive it as a gift from God. Wine calls us to a life of gratitude. To be grateful is to pay attention to what God has given to us, to be thankful for it, to share it, to appreciate it together. In this way, savoring wine can become prayer.”