Editor’s note: While Kreglinger’s personal experience with wine is appreciating it as an aspect of her faith life, we recognize that this is not true for everyone. There are many ways people celebrate creation—this interview explores just one of them.
Gisela Kreglinger grew up in Franconia, Germany, where her family made wine and attended a Lutheran congregation (and still does both). Her love of wine, coupled with a study of theology—she holds a doctorate in historical theology from the University of St. Andrews (Scotland)—became the impetus for her book The Spirituality of Wine (Eerdmans, 2016).
We spoke with Kreglinger about the ideas behind her book, including her thoughts on wine’s particular role in Lutheran spirituality.
Living Lutheran: How did you decide to write The Spirituality of Wine?
Kreglinger: The background to the book is that I grew up on a winery and in a very small Lutheran church that my family has been attending for centuries and crafting the wine for communion for many generations. It’s been a big part of my upbringing.
My book really is an overview of the theology and spirituality of wine—from wine in the Bible, to wine in the history of the church, to wine in the Lord’s Supper, to a theology of joy and feasting, to a chapter on exploring the importance of the senses for our faith journeys. That’s the first part of the book, that I’ve called “Sustenance.”
In the second part of the book I really try to engage the wine world directly. I have a chapter on the vintner as theologian. Is he or she a finder or a maker? I have a chapter on technology. What role does technology have? What ethical and moral and aesthetic decisions do vintners make, and are they theologically relevant?
I have a chapter on the health benefits of wine, and one on alcohol abuse. That’s an important subject—dealt with in Scripture, dealt with in the history of the church—I felt that I needed to talk about that as well. One of the mistakes that I think we make [is that] we often think about alcohol abuse as primarily and mostly an individual problem rather than perhaps pathological patterns that are in society. I wanted to open up that conversation a bit further to say that this is a more complex question.
Then I have a chapter on wine and soul care, to see how we can draw from the wine world and the biblical metaphors and how that teaches us about soul care. I think the rhythms of creation and the rhythms of a human life in the hands of God are very similar, they are part of one created order.
You find wine to be very present both in Scripture and in our lives of faith. Would you talk a bit about that—and about the resistance to it that you’ve encountered?
Even in the ancient world there’s something extra in wine that is not necessary. It’s a lavish gift. I think it’s really important that we have a giver who is lavish, who is generous, who delights to give us extra things that are not necessary for our survival, but for us to delight in creation.
I think it’s really important that we have a giver who is lavish, who is generous, who delights to give us extra things that are not necessary for our survival, but for us to delight in creation.
When the Israelites come to the promised land and they send out spies, it’s to the “Valley of the Great Cluster” (Numbers 13:24). That becomes a symbol that the land truly is blessed by God. Vineyard-planting is part of their vocation as God’s people because celebration is part of how we cultivate our lives of faith. So I think it’s not just a superficial theme within Scripture—the story of creation and salvation is deeply intertwined with the theme of viticulture and wine and celebration and making room to do that.
Up until the 19th century the church had always understood it this way and wine has always been served in the eucharist. And throughout the history of the church there are voices who said, “Well, there are some who abuse wine, maybe we shouldn’t serve wine.” And throughout church history, people have [responded], based on Scripture, “We cannot deny the gifts of God to the people of God. God gave wine. We need to embrace these gifts and learn how to use them well.”
How does wine fit into the Lutheran tradition?
I am deeply rooted in this tradition. When I got confirmed, it was a very powerful and transformative experience for me. I think because I grew up on a winery and my family crafted the wine for the Lord’s Supper, it was a very revelatory experience for me.
I think of all the Protestant denominations, we Lutherans have always celebrated creation. When you think about how Martin Luther and Katharina von Bora lived—the table talks, and that they always had so many people in their home—I just feel like perhaps that is something the Lutheran church can reclaim and be inspired by. What the world needs is … to sort of gather together regularly for meals and have a bottle of wine and just cultivate that life of hospitality around the table—this is a way to reach out into a very broken world.
You write that drinking wine can be a sort of prayer. Could you expand on that?
Whenever my family would do a wine tasting, they would often start it off with a little saying (in German). It goes like this: “To drink is to pray and to binge drink is to sin.” The line between praying and sinning is sometimes quite thin. I think it’s really important that we don’t just gulp down wine—we see it as a gift. We treasure that gift and that means to be attentive to what we receive and to savor it. That becomes an act of prayer, an expression of gratitude to the giver of all good gifts. Simone Weil, a French mystic, once said that attention in its highest form is prayer.
Wine can feel intimidating. What would you say to people who want to know more about it but aren’t sure where to begin?
I think we need to free people to enjoy wine as a gift of God and not as this commodity in this very hierarchical structure where, if you really know a lot about wine and you can afford certain wines, you are part of a select and elite group of people, and if you just happen to not be knowledgeable, and if you happen to not have money, you are on the lower rank of the scale.
I still feel that finding a small wine shop with a good selection and someone who’s learned about wine, has a passion for providing good wine, but also passion for serving the community, I think to me that is still the best way to go.
What do you hope readers will take away from the book?
My hope is that they will embrace creation as a crucial aspect of our spirituality—and that includes wine. I want them to envision hospitality and celebration as an important way to cultivate the spiritual life, to share life, to build community and to reach out to others. There are so many people who are very lonely and isolated, and I think offering a little feast and a celebration and drawing people in to be present for meaningful encounters and conversation is a radical way to be a Christian in today’s world.