The Spirituality of Wine
By Gisela H. Kreglinger
As a non-initiate into the world of wine, we approached Gisela Kreglinger’s new book, The Spirituality of Wine, with a combination of skepticism and uncertainty. Would a free-ranging examination of the spiritual utility of an intoxicant be persuasive? Would it hold the attention of a non-devotee of wine? The author, who grew up on a family winery in central Germany’s Franconia region, caught our interest with her Christian spiritualist perspective, one that “seeks to integrate faith into all spheres of life, including the material and the everyday.” Something there strikes a chord: life abundant includes celebrating the “good creation” of “the generous and loving Creator who delights in bestowing gifts on his children, which make their hearts glad and their souls sing.” Ascetic strains of Christian theology emphasize the spiritual and the hereafter, while neglecting the here and now. But we are both body and soul, and we are called upon to take joy (and find fellowship) in God’s creation: “The mark of a decidedly Christian spirituality is not a flight from creation but a faith-filled embrace of it.”
For Kreglinger, wine has had a long and important role in the embracing of creation. She cites biblical chapter and verse to illustrate the association of natural bounty (including abundant grape vines) with the Promised Land; and she cites Christ’s first miracle—at the wedding feast in Cana, where he turns water into wine—as a key example of wine’s role in biblical imagery and Christian celebration. The author sees wine as a sign of God’s blessing and, through the Eucharist, as a tangible reminder that Christ stepped into “the divine winepress,” shedding his blood for our sake. Taken in moderation, she says, wine is also a way to gladden the hearts of imbibers through shared fellowship and feasting, as engagingly depicted in the film Babette’s Feast.
The book covers a great deal of territory, from the aforementioned theology of spirituality, to the cultural, economic and religious history of wine, to the close connection between the expansion of Christianity and that of viticulture across Europe (the role of monasteries being pivotal in the latter regard). There are chapters on the philosophy of winemaking and one on the abuse of alcohol. Some of that material may be a tad esoteric for the general reader. It’s not immediately obvious who the intended reader of this book is meant to be: scholar or lay person, wine aficionado or curious non-imbiber?
At moments, the author may wax over-lyrically about the benefits of “holy intoxication,” and she tends to reiterate points more often than may be necessary. Further, the book’s type-size is smaller than it comfortably ought to be.
But, Kreglinger brings conviction, a sure command of her material and an engaging writing style to what was, for this reader, unfamiliar terrain. One happy surprise came in the author’s brief preface, in which she alludes to her childhood on the winery: “I thought about the fields and vineyards, the sun and the rain…I thought about all the people who worked for us: their lives and sorrows…” It’s wonderfully evocative stuff that makes us yearn to read a memoir of the author’s childhood years.
Copyright © 2017 by John Arkelian.