Tuesday, October 27, 2009


I am curious about the frequent association of wine and life celebrations. My wife and I just returned from a trip to New Jersey to join family and friends in celebrating her mother's 80th birthday. Wine was raised in toasts to her. The long table for the feast had flowers, food, water, and red and white wine ready for use. In this situation the occasion was to celebrate a major milestone birthday.
Earlier in the year another gathering of friends and family had celebrated the memory of my uncle and we grieved his loss and appreciated his legacy of love and care. Again, food and wine played a central role in our ritual of honoring a loved one.

In the Christian Sunday ritual of worship that I normally participate in bread and wine are central elements used to celebrate the life and death of Jesus and the empowerment of those who follow him. That these are nurturing gestures speak powerfully, even to our deep collective unconscious needs for life symbols. "This is my body broken for you, eat this in remembrance of me. This is my blood poured out for you and for all for the forgiveness of sins. Drink this in remembrance of me." That goes deep into the psyche, offering a pathway to restoration and wholeness.

I would expect that other religious traditions have powerful rituals involving wine as well (and would enjoy your sharing about those practices). How has wine been used with celebrations in your life?

Friday, October 9, 2009

Patient Waiting

A couple of days ago I put a sample of the new wines in a hydrometer and measured them to be sure they have completely fermented out. A while ago I was concerned that the fermentation had stuck, remember? Well, the good news is that they have completed fermentation. And there is no bad news!

Now the wines will sit for a while yet to let the lees (the dead yeast cells and other byproducts of fermentation) settle to the bottom of the containers. Then I'll "rack" the wine (transfer it using a plastic tube) into another container, being careful to leave as much of the lees and other sediment remaining on the bottom of the secondary fermenter.

Waiting plays a major part in wine making: waiting for complete fermentation (or you could have exploding bottles!), waiting for lees to settle and set on the bottom of the container, waiting for wine to clarify, and waiting for wine to mature. The waiting is active in that I know what needs to happen and what to anticipate, as well as how to look for the signs of when it is time to move the process to a new step. But the waiting requires patience, and trust in the process.

As a spiritual director, as well as a wine maker, waiting has a very important role in providing companionship to another person or group in their spiritual life. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a great 20th century French philosopher, paleontologist and geologist, and Jesuit priest had an evolutionary understanding of faith life, the cosmos, and the future of humanity. He was able to envision God at work over eons of time and in human spiritual history. He applied that vision of the slow and faithful work of God to a student who we was mentoring. I often share this letter of his to my own directees, and try to follow its wisdom in my own life:

Patient Trust in Ourselves and the Slow Work of God

Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are, quite naturally, impatient
in everything to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way
to something unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress that
it is made by passing through some stages of instability—
And that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you.
Your ideas mature gradually—
let them grow, let them shape themselves,
without undue haste.
Don't try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you; and accept the anxiety
of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.