Sunday, January 17, 2010

Wine in Cana

Puritans and those of the puritanical ilk (they need not necessarily be Christian) do not really hate alcohol. What they really hate are enzymes. They cannot stand enzymatic activity. It is not so much the fact that wine can get you drunk that causes them irritation. It is the fact that wine comes out of such a frivolous and unforced process as fermentation that very nearly causes them to go raving mad; for they would rather believe that such an accidental-looking thing as fermentation were an oversight of God rather than admit it was His will. But wine is God's will, or He would not have made it in Cana.

We can say that enzymatic activity, along with all the Christ-precluding symbols created in nature that have anticipated His coming (precluding and anticipating of course precisely because He was already before creation), is a clear natural forerunner symbol of Christ's third manifested epiphany and first public miracle.

There is a limitless range of symbols to be read in nature that mirror God's supernatural working and manifestation in His Son. While it is true that Christ would have suspended the laws of nature to make the wine in Cana, it is also true that the natural enzymatic process of fermentation anticipates this first public miracle of Christ; by mirroring the Cana miracle in the rather miraculous process we call fermentation.

But as natural fermentation anticipated the miracle at Cana, likewise the miracle at Cana represents and anticipates Christ's coming "hour"; the new baptism; the new wine of the Holy Spirit to be poured out on the world.

We can glean from these three - the natural miracle of fermentation, the supernatural miracle of Christ turning water into wine, and that most important thing of all, for which Christ was very impatient: namely, His death, resurrection, and pouring forth of the Holy Spirit - a clear, resounding, threefold image of what our conversion ought to look like, indeed, the fact that our conversion is not just a process, but is ever more away from our own strength.

We will not keep ourselves clean if we do not "dirty ourselves"; that is, if one only clings to their baptism like a passport, or one-way ticket, then over time it will turn out that one is only holding on to their idea of baptism, and the idea of their cleanliness. Things do not always operate, in fact mostly never operate, the way we think - never mind the supernatural ways of God.

Our bowels afford a good example. Anyone with a modicum of knowledge about the human body knows how essential are good bacterium, microorganisms - enzymatic activity; not only for digestion and extraction of nutrients, but for the defenses of the immune system. People who have been put on antibiotics at any point will know this; the risk of contracting something else while taking them, or shortly after. That's not to mention the direct side effects.

The knowledge of good microorganisms in the bowels, and of course everywhere, has given many doctors and practitioners of medicine second thoughts about the use of antibiotics and other "cleaning" operations, such as enemas, and the ways we eradicate germs through chemical sterilization.

The precarious position of our own cleanliness - afforded by undeserved grace through repentance - will turn drastically to one worse than our previous position (the man who came back home from the desert) if our initial baptismal waters are not converted, through the strangely miraculously enzymatic process that is one with the sacrament of baptism, into new wine. It is not enough that we be made whiter than snow, for if we think that, we will not stay white, but will become defiled.

We must be made whiter than snow, but our only way of staying pure is through fermentation: in which, among other things, we develop richness, character, body (this is most importantly in spirit, not "personality", for it is often that these things are not apparent to ourselves) that consoles other people like the inebriation of the finest wine.

This is, in part, what the Catholic Church means when she says that baptism is the beginning, not the end-all-be-all, of conversion. Baptism is sufficient, as a beginning. Oh, it's very necessary, but there still remains, for all of us, complete transformation.

Now, sin is ever the "inferior wine"; the wine that runs out, that is extremely limited; the evil charade and mockery of the good wine; the artificial wine that leaves you with a headache because it has been filtered of microbes, and perhaps adulterated with taste-enhancing additives.

Notice that the inferior wine is spent when Jesus makes the new wine. There will not be any mixing; no "bettering" of the inferior wine by adding some good wine into it. He could well have foreseen the shortage and made a surplus before any servant noticed the depletion. On top of this, the new wine is made in different containers - indeed, the jugs used for purification - rather than the ones that held the inferior wine.

We can witness here the very image of conversion. It is obvious enough: the old self completely dies; not just the manifest acts, the inferior wine of sin, but also the container that held it; and an entirely new container is given to hold…this time, water - humble water. You are filled to the brim with water, for after the habits of sin, nothing better will do but that clean equilibrium of clear water, held with awe, the fear of God.

Sometimes it feels like you are not even holding this water. Though you may be certain it is there, you cannot feel the liquidity of the water; it can feel just like clean empty space because you are holding the water so deeply and so docilely.

Notice how big these stone purification jugs are: twenty to thirty gallons each. To be so hollowed out; the thought of going from that small but full jar of inferior wine to this large container that is hollowed out is scary. How can I have that much room inside myself? I cannot give that much up. But God hollows us out, through purification that necessarily hurts.

One - the water - is brought on by revoking something, banishing it, repenting of it, emptying ourselves, and being emptied by God, of it: a form of subtraction and submission. The other - the new wine - is brought on by positive addition, and is another kind of submission. We are made into new wine from water by conforming, in addition to repenting, and continuing to repent.

So, to bring up another natural thing that symbolizes the supernatural: it was in God's plan that we delight in wine, for even in that delight we catch a meager and limited modicum, a pale and paltry reflection of God's delight in us - when we conform to Him in whose image and likeness we were made.


Jim Janknegt said...

Great post. Thanks!

Tim J. said...

Splendid! Can I reproduce part of this at The League of Bearded Catholics blog? I'll post a link.

Great observations.I've always thought there was some joyful, primordial magic to natural fermentation. Think of it... bread, cheese, wine and beer... what else do you need?

Paul Stilwell said...

Tim, by all means. I would be honoured.

"I've always thought there was some joyful, primordial magic to natural fermentation. Think of it... bread, cheese, wine and beer..."

Amen! And the magic can be right there, in the home.