The Spirituality of Wine

by guest writer, Laura Turner

God is so lavish in giving us so much, and we don’t notice.” It’s fitting that the woman who wrote the book on the spirituality of wine would begin her time as a guest of the Newbigin House of Studies talking about the lavish gifts of God. Kreglinger, who grew up on a vineyard in Franconia in southern Germany, is both the daughter of vintners and a theologian in her own right, having obtained a PhD from the University of St. Andrew’s in Scotland on theology and the imagination.

bookcoverRecently, Kreglinger visited the Newbigin House of Studies and talked with Dr. Scot Sherman in front of an audience about her work around the spirituality of wine. She began the conversation talking about “the priesthood of all drinkers,” a phrase she coined and uses in her book. “I grew up in a culture where wine is for everyone, no matter where you’re at economically, poor or rich, very educated or not,” Kreglinger said. “We all gather in the local pub and have a glass of wine together. What I’ve noticed in the wine writing of the last 40 years is this elite class of expert has emerged, and they’re the ones who say they know wine and they’re supposed to tell you what to smell and taste. I think we need to wean ourselves off the expert a little bit and get some more confidence in our own palate, our own capacity to smell and taste our way through life.”

The Western capacity for senses like taste and smell has been diminished, Kreglinger said, by our reliance on facts that can only be obtained by hearing or seeing. “I have noticed in wine tasting that it still is really hard for people to focus in and savor,” she said. “We end up focusing on the conversation and educating ourselves, but how about just savoring? How about just sitting in the beauty that can come to you and being moved by it?” While Kreglinger acknowledges that life can be deeply painful at times, she has also come to view beauty as one of life’s sustaining forces, and one of God’s great gifts to us. The beauty of a community gathered around a table to enjoy good food and good wine is one of the best gifts people can enjoy. “ I would say people are afraid of joy and joyful feasting,” Kreglinger said, “and on the other hand some people feel we’re overindulging.” Drinking alcohol has a long history, in America, of being viewed with skepticism–especially by religious communities. Kreglinger mentioned the film Babette’s Feast, in which a small, pietistic Lutheran community is slowly transformed from asceticism to communal joy by a group of artists and chefs who move into their town. The movie “really shows how wine and food can form and transform community,” she said. “Through this beauty, our hearts are moved and touched. But not only through the beauty, but also through the alcohol. Alcohol has a really interesting effect on us. It can alter our consciousness but it also warms and stimulates our bodies. So much of our lives we spend putting up our little masks and fences, managing all we have to manage, and it’s really hard to sometimes let go. Alcohol, together with that incredible beauty, helps us to relax and let go. It’s really through that holy intoxication that the community is transformed.”

Kreglinger is quick to point out that this intoxication can become a source of pain when it is used to drown a person’s sorrows or when it is abused. But when wine is used well, it becomes a source of joy and conviviality, bringing people together in a way that allows them to slow down, open up, and share their burdens. There is also the issue of joy, which Kreglinger returned to time and again. “We need to nourish joy in our midst,” she said. “There’s not enough joy in this world; joy is hard to come by and something that we really need to cultivate in very intentional ways.” 

The cultivation of joy is much like the process of cultivating grapes for wine. It takes time, and may encounter numerous unexpected setbacks. “So just as it is important to learn to receive wine as a gift from God,” Kreglinger said, “it’s also important for us to learn what it means to go through seasons of darkness so that the heart can heal. To drink is to pray. When we go through sorrows, we don’t drown our sorrows. We’re called to work through them and to share them and allow the community to come alongside us and help us through. As a community we have to learn how to live well with the gifts that God has given us.”

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