Have you experienced the so-called devotional piece, or the spiritual exhortation that ends up just sliming you with guilt and shame and failure?
I. HATE. Those.
You’re reading along, and suddenly you feel the writer’s fingers around the throat of your joy! Generally speaking those writers have a very “works-based” relationship with God and are rooted in the ethic that right being descends from right doing…and a greater perversion of the true gospel message I do not know of! Get this if you get nothing else: if right doing could cement your redemption then Jesus literally died in vain and His resurrection is meaningless. But that is a tale for another day.
Long have I been entranced by Paul’s words to the people in Corinth when he told them
“2 You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; 3 clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart.”
Wow!! I was blown away by that statement when I first encountered it around 10 years old…to write upon someone’s heart! I pestered a lot of people in our congregation about what this verse meant! lol!! They got real tired of my asking, but nothing was giving me that “click of truth” that happens in my gut when I have the “aha!” moment of insight.
I have thought of this passage in metaphors of wine.
Wait, wha…??? I can hear it…WINE? LOL!
Yes, wine, which may be the absolute greatest single metaphor in all creation. Let me explain: When you look at a bottle of wine, you are seeing the distilled essence of countless hundreds of thousands of relational decisions that have been made to get the bottle where it is.
Let that sink in…
First of all, there has to be a person who decides they want to plant a vineyard. If they are wise, they will do research regarding weather patterns, soils, industrial presence or not, sunlight, and temperature extremes. You could go outside and plant grapes in your front yard, take the fruit and ferment it, strain it, drink it, and get sick! giggles! But to make a memorable wine, a classic that is revered and sought after, this will not do.
You would go out to the actual parcels after doing your research, and you would touch the soil, breathe the winds, feel the heat and light, taste the water, talk to other farmers in the region…in short, you would enter into relationship with the land, the climate, and the people there…and you would need to cultivate those relationships assiduously. Your decisions in each of these aspects will ultimately define the quality of the fruit that comes forth.
Next…you must till the land. How do you want to do that? With machines and brute force? By hand? Using horses or oxen? Relational capital is once again required for that decision, as well as planting, what kind of varietal to plant given your soil, climate and geographic orientation. What planting method will you use?
Then comes cultivating…which is a daily involvement! Here, your initial relationship with the climate and soil will be vital and tie into your relationship with your vines and their needs. You must watch daily, and then make decisions on what the vines need to flourish…sometimes more water, usually less water though…when the vines are properly stressed, their flavour is at its most vibrant (see my poem “The Vines”).
OH! And of course, you will need workers, to help you with your vineyard…how do you treat them?? How do they treat each other?
Next comes thousands of decisions to make about rodent control, parasite control, etc etc. You need to make decisions about dropping fruit to intensify flavour. This is done in very heavy fruit years. See, if your vines produce say 30 tons an acre, all the vigor of the vine goes into making 30 tons of fruit…it leads to grapes that taste limp, blah and forgettable. Oh, you can make a liquid that will get someone drunk…but that is hardly the focus and goal of truly fine wine. But if you drop fruit and reduce the yield to say about 1.5 ton per acre, all that vigor goes to those precious few grapes and they are soo much better! And so is the wine.
Then comes harvest…and oh wow what a time this is!! First of all, are the sugar contents right in your grapes? Have they had enough sun to ripen? And what day should you harvest? Do it when it is too hot, and the fruit is stressed and tastes flat…do it when it is rainy and wet then the flavors are so dilute from the excess water. What harvest method should you use? Machine pickers? Hand pickers? How careful are your picking techniques to leave the vines relieved of their fruit but intact and flourishing?
Next, how do we get the fruit to the crush pad? How much fruit do we put in each tote? Too much and it starts to press the grapes then and you lose the juice…too little and you are not going to get everything in on time.
Then comes the sort line…the clusters must be examined carefully, and ones with signs of rot, under-ripeness, mold, or insect damage must be sorted out and dealt with (sometimes by silage methods, and sometimes by making a cheap fermented product for other uses, but usually just composted). So who sorts? How will they sort?
And then comes destemming methods, pressing methods, fermenting methods, and hundreds of other crucial esoteric decisions made just to kick off fermentation! Not to mention the decisions regarding when to barrel the new wine, what type of barrel to use, what toast it should have. whether the wine is filtered as it is barreled or not…whether to add sugar, or to add acid, and other things many intrusive oriented wine makers use.
How should it be cellared? Where? How long? And then comes the blending of what will go into bottle…tasting the various barrels which are as different as your children from one another…the bottling techniques, the enclosure (cork? Artificial cork? Screw cap? Glass? Vacuum sealed bladders?). And how long should we rest the wine in bottle? Many wines are structured so that they will not even be mature and tasting good until a decade has gone by…other wines are sweet, light, and delicate, and intended to be consumed the same year they were made.
Believe it or not, that is a scant overview and very shallow…and these decisions matter…when made from a dysfunctional relational space, they will result in a dysfunctional tasting wine. But when made in living and vibrant relational connection to creation, the vines, and your people, the resulting wine will be staggering in its beauty. The bottle represents the distillation of countless thousands of relational decisions made well!
I have made it my aim to have my life be the result of countless relational decisions made so that when I am tasted, people will say “Wow! What an amazing wine! That winemaker really knows Her stuff!”
Remember, wine is alive, and tastes different from month to month, and year to year…as do you, and I. What counts is at the end…when we are opened and poured out.
I exhort us to be unforgettable! And I offer a metaphor to shed light on the path to achieving that “unforgettable fire” that burns and influences.
Blessings and love this morning to you Constance…and Grace upon Grace!