Years ago, when I was a young minister, I used to write a monthly column for the Family magazine. In September 1982 my column was entitled ‘Disaster in a bottle: looking at the appalling facts of alcohol abuse will make you think soberly about drinking’. The opening two paragraphs give the flavour of the article:
“There are times when I find it difficult to write dispassionately. Today is such a day. This morning I have been seeking to help a man whose life has been wrecked by drink – in human terms there is no hope for him.
Yet also this morning I have opened an invitation to a bottle party sent from the kindest of Christian friends. How am I to react to these two things as a Christian pastor?”
In those days I was very much pro the temperance movement. I ended my article with the statement: “One thing for certain: the temperance movement, far from being narrow-minded in its origins, was the mark of the liberal social conscience”.
Today I have just read The Spirituality of Wine (Eerdmans, Grand Rapids 2016) by Gisela Kreglinger, which presents a very different perspective. Yes, a whole chapter is devoted to ‘Wine and the Abuse of Alcohol: Rescuing Wine from the Gluttons for the Contemplatives’, where the dangers of alcohol abuse are fully recognised. However the author suggests that spirits and not wine are the real culprits. For those Christians who would urge their fellow-Christians not to drink, she has a thought-provoking quotation from Martin Luther:
“Wine and women bring sorrow and heartbreak, they make a fool of many and bring madness, ought we therefore to pour away wine and kill all the women? Not so. Gold and silver, money and possessions bring much evil among the people, should we therefore throw it all away? If we want to eliminate our closest enemy, the one that is most harmful to us, we would have to kill ourselves. We have no more harmful enemy than our own heart”.
In her chapter on ‘Wine and the Bible’ the author recognises that the Bible condemns drunkenness. However, in her chapter on ‘Wine and Communal Feasting’ she makes the case for ‘holy intoxication’. She writes:
“While drunkenness makes one dull, inhibits one’s motor and social skills, and can lead to destructive behaviour and isolation, gentle intoxication can do exactly the opposite… Confession comes more easily – confessions of love, failure, regret, sorrow and joy. Allowing conversations to go deeper creates more meaningful bonds between people and knits communities more closely”!
Coming from a Lutheran background, she is accustomed to drinking wine – and not grape juice – at the Lord’s Table. Perhaps precisely because of this, the drinking from the cup is given deeper significance:
“As we sip from the Eucharistic cup, we remember that Christ took upon himself God’s judgement upon the world. He stepped into the divine winepress and bore the sins and injustices of the world in order that all people might be reconciled to God”.
For her the very act of opening our mouths to receive wine from the one cup has great symbolic potential:
“As we partake by receiving Christ in the bread and wine, so must our fundamental posture in the Christian life be that of receptivity. It is an active witness to remain poor and open at the centre of our lives in order to receive Christ and his ongoing work through the Holy Spirit. We must learn to cease from striving and to trust that living consistently at the brink of exhaustion is not a mark of the spiritual life or a virtue for which we should strive.”
But it is not just at the Lord’s Supper where the drinking of wine can have spiritual meaning. Wine should not be gulped down, but “reserved for contemplatives, people who are willing to slow down, to be attentive, listening, discerning and reflective”. She goes on:
“We need to rescue wine from the gluttons for the contemplatives, because wine was meant to draw us nearer to God and each other, rather than alienate us even further from his loving and healing presence. In the words of the German proverb, ‘To drink is to pray, to binge-drink is to sin’.”
Finally, drawing upon Matt 26.29 where Jesus looks forward to drinking from the fruit of the vine in the heavenly banquet, she concludes her book with the statement:
“As we enjoy a glass of wine prayerfully, it should always fill us with hope and longing for a future time when Christ will return to renew the heavens and the earth. Life will then be like a grand wedding banquet where we no longer see God through a glass darkly but see him face to face (Rev 21.1-4; 1 Cor 13.12).”
Here is an unusual book which gives much food for thought – and maybe deserves to be read with a glass of wine in the hand!