The Spirituality of Wine: An Interview With Gisela Kreglinger

My library is filled with good theology books; and it’s sprinkled with a few wonderful books on wine. But finally the book I’ve been looking for has been written by Dr. Gisela Kreglinger. Her world and expertise spans both of my interests: she was raised on a family vineyard in Germany and finished her Ph. D. in historical theology from the University of St. Andrews.

Gisela2Many people know that Jesus turned water into wine. That was his first “sign” in the Gospel of John. (I sometimes say that Jesus’ first miracle was to turn water into wine; the church of my heritage performed a second miracle by “turning” his wine into grape juice. Wonderful teetotalers, for the most part — but seriously wrong in their understand of “wine” in the Bible.)

But they may not realize that the Bible is full of images of vineyards, vintners, and wine. The very eschatological hope—when “God will wipe away all tears from their eyes”—is anchored in the hope for a feast where aged wine is served (Isaiah 25)!

I’m thankful that Dr. Kreglinger has allowed me to interview her. (Check out her book here.)

MC: As a lifelong pastor and New Testament professor, I love how you’re trying to break down barriers: sacred/spiritual . . . creation/salvation . . . spiritual/physical. In what sense do you consider the world of wine and winemaking a spiritual adventure?

GK: In Protestant circles there is some times the tendency to narrow the spiritual to that of the soul and the salvation of our souls rather envision God’s redemption in terms of all creation. If God created the world, then the fields, the soil, the vine, etc., are all parts of God’s creation and his gift to us. As such they are spiritual realities as they are created by God and given to us. We forget that sometimes but the vintners who work with the land day in and day out often understand that there is a spiritual dimension to what they are doing. The soil is alive and so are the vines and the whole process of crafting wine, the fermentation process and the aging of the wine in the bottle is absolutely mysterious … something that we cannot control or if we do control it we end up killing a lot of life and the end product is not as vibrant. Vintners understand this mysterious and spiritual dynamic better than anyone else and as such they can teach us about the spiritual dimension of wine and crafting wine. That is why I interviewed 30 people from around the world and gave them a voice in my book. They really do help us to glimpse the hand of God in creation, not just when the world was first created, by his on-going presence in sustaining creation and allowing us to partake in his work.

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MC: I’ve seen it many, many times—just what you said: wine “transforms the meal into a celebration.” (By the way, the discussion of “Babette’s Feast” was worth the price of the book!) In an age of fast food and lightning-fast technology, how could wine bring us back to hospitality and community?

GK: This is the big challenge of the day. I suggest to begin small with your home and your family and your friends. Eugene Peterson, who has been my spiritual director for over 20 years, advised me when I first started teaching in a graduate school that I should never let go of our calling to hospitality and have students over even if it was just that one extra thing that I could barely cope with. He encouraged me to allow the students to help make it happen and that is just what I did. I took that to heart and I have never stopped having people over for a glass of wine and a good meal. Connecting with other movements such as the Slow Food movement is also a good place to begin. They emphasize growing things, being local, knowing the local farmers and meals around the table is a natural part of what they do.

 

MC: You wrote: “From Genesis to the book of Revelation, the theme of wine features rather prominently in scripture.” My guess is that many believers have missed that. What are some are the larger themes of scripture that wine/vineyard/vintner are tied to?

GK: The most important theme related to wine is that vineyards and wine are a gift from God that is to bring us joy and is a physical and literal expression of his desire to bless his people. Vineyards and wine remind us daily that God is benevolent towards his people and wants to bless them and be generous to them and he wants us to be joyful. But this also means that He wants us to share this blessing with others, especially the poor and needy and the marginalized in our midst. When we forget this and deprive those of help that need it most God also withholds his blessing from us. This is why the Israelites had to go into Exile. They had forgotten that they, too, were called to be a blessing and give freely from what God gave to them. In the narrative of the Exodus and return from exile, vineyards and wine become themes in the redemptive story of Scripture. God promises to deliver his people out of exile and this means returning to the land and being able to cultivate the land and harvest its fruit, including grapes and craft wine. Being able to craft wine in peace becomes a sign of God’s redemption. Just like God delivered his people out of Egypt and promised to lead them into a land rich is agriculture and grapes and wine so did God promise his people that he would lead them out of exile and allow them once more to live in peace and cultivate the land and enjoy all that it offers. Wine became a literal and symbolic expression of God’s redemptive purposes, the symbolic hinting at the eschatological hope that God would act and heal and restore.

 

MC: I’ve been impressed with the spiritual concerns of so many winemakers we’ve been privileged to get to know. But you’re encouraging them to find the deepest spiritual meaning not just in the soil itself (though included in the terroir!) but in the Creator of the soil and the vine. Any suggestions for how they might do that?

GK: The best way to do this I think is ask them questions. I’ve found that most vintners understand that it is not just the soil or the fermentation process but that there is a greater mystical and spiritual reality that they encounter. Explore it with them and ask them how they understand this greater spiritual vision. I’ve found that we can learn so much from their experience and encounter with that greater reality that perhaps they too think more about the Creator as you ask those questions. Listening to them is probably the best way to further their own understanding of our good Creator. I’ve noticed that the vintners I interviewed years ago have done some thinking since the interviews and perhaps grown in their understanding of our Creator. . . . Asking them good questions gets their vintner souls going and fermenting — 🙂  — and the Holy Spirit never ceases to work in them either.