The Enthusiast: Comparing the Quests of the Wine Lover and the Kingdom Seeker
There’s a story I think about when we visit the Napa and Sonoma valleys: It’s the one that goes “Once upon a time… There was an evil king who set out to be the wisest, most powerful, most ruthless and feared dictator in the land. Since he saw no possibility of improving himself, the king determined he would decrease the intelligence of his people, thereby achieving the disconnected, higher platform he sought for himself. Interestingly, his strategy involved removing words from the people’s vocabulary. If they couldn’t speak or express themselves, then perhaps they would become unable to feel or assess—in time, maybe they wouldn’t even be able to think!
I don’t remember where I heard the story, but it became applicable five years ago, when Lance and I took a weekend-long “sensory analysis” wine class at the Culinary Institute in St. Helena. That weekend, we spent the first day of class categorizing the color, clarity and smell of wines. The next day we tasted (and spit—we signed a statement that we would not consume) wines and ranked them in order of their acidity and classified another group for sweetness. We arranged reds from least to most tannic. We even learned how to identify wine defects by tasting flawed wines; for example, wines with a hint of sulfur or Bactine were likely a victim of improper winemaking or wine storing. We tasted the difference between vegetal and grassy. If a wine was fruity, what kind of fruit—stone fruits, citrus, berry, melon, tropical? We picked our favorite wines without using the inappropriately dominant sense of sight—a sense we use mostly for label-reading. We were given a “Wine Wheel” which listed hundreds of possible wine descriptors grouped by categories such as floral, animal, spice, household, etc. All in all, being armed with this new vocabulary and newly refined (and newly discovered!) senses enabled us to experience wine tasting on a new level.
In the fall of last year, for our fifteenth wedding anniversary, Lance and I were gifted five days alone together in the Sonoma Valley. I wasn’t sure how I’d handle all of this free time, so I brought my smart book, my dumb book, my journal and a magazine. There was a threat of rain, but I didn’t care. We didn’t have much spending money, but I didn’t care. We arrived in the late evening after many delays, which I was tempted to care about, but the delays became nothing to care about once we were officially on vacation. I looked down at the clean floor of the hotel room which would still be clean when I woke up the next morning. I arranged my toiletries into a delightful vignette, and quickly assumed a horizontal position in front of the TV. It was just me, Ina (Garten—Food Network), a heaping spoonful of Nutella, and Lance in the other room mumbling something about how none of my fantasies ever seem to involve him…
During a commercial break, I glanced at the local map of wineries and considered several options for the next day, including ditching it all for a trip to the beach. Nowadays, we find no triumph in experiencing someone else’s itinerary of perfection. With much practice, we’ve refined our skill of enjoyment to include any number of scenarios. I don’t need perfect weather, I don’t need Robert Parker to tell me where to go, and I don’t even need to own everything I like along the way. Tomorrow would be a good day, because it had no real threats.
There are roughly two types of wine tasters in the world: those who want to accomplish, and those who want to experience. When we were new to the wine world, we were accomplishers. We went places and did things other people told us to do because we didn’t know how to choose for ourselves, and we were fearful of a failed encounter (and having to pay for it). Satisfaction was derived merely from crossing a winery off the list. We had no sense of our own likes and dislikes. We didn’t have the faculties or confidence to determine “goodness” for our own selves.
Alright, so what’s my point in all this, besides being able to brag about having taken a wine class at the Culinary Institute? I guess, somewhere between the evil king story, the wine class, and our most recent wine tasting getaway, I realized how many parallels there are between a wine enthusiast and a person seeking the Kingdom of God.
The enthusiast’s arena is anywhere he or she is willing to participate. Wine enthusiasts know that great wine is not limited to any specific type of grape, pedigree, country, terroir, tasting room, media, distributor, personality, or price point. Great wine itself (which is just one piece in the gestalt of the tasting experience) is dependent on the winemaker having followed really, only a few fundamentals: 1) They must have an understanding of the laws of nature in order to work with them, and 2) They must devote themselves to the practice of what they learn. The first begets the second, and the second compels a deeper study of the first.
The wine tasting “accomplisher” is always in danger of having a false sense of fulfillment or defeat. Not yet knowing any differently, accomplishers journey toward the same fulfillment we all crave, by way of appeasing the ego. Nothing could be more suffocating to the spirit! An accomplisher mindset breeds restlessness and rigidity. A “speed before accuracy” approach is often observed. It’s true, this was my skiing slogan, and my tennis serves still align with this method, but one cannot serve in the Kingdom of Heaven with this mindset. In fact, it will cause harm, both to the Kingdom seeker and the wine enthusiast!
The “experiencer” journeys toward fulfillment by pushing the preconceptions and ego aside in order to make room to assess what truly is.
For the enthusiast who seeks experience, the goal is not to reach an end, because there is no destination, except to journey more. Is there such a thing as a wine enthusiast who ceases their quest upon the completion of a certain goal? (Somewhere I just heard a Frenchman spit). They quest because it is a lifestyle, and it does not get derailed by setbacks or victories. To stop would be to say that they’ve experienced finality in one way or another. But isn’t it possible that there is enough of God to make life as we know it, and our ability to live it, immeasurably better than wherever we are right now? Christianity has been called a “race” and a journey. If it wasn’t so, Satan would stop tempting us once we became believers. Fortunately, a mere profession of our belief in Jesus is far from the infinite destination which God has planned for us.
Because a finite mentality yields finite conclusions, I wonder if we’ve strategized our way to accomplishing nothing. On the culturally acceptable path for seeking the Kingdom of God, it seems we’ve whittled away our vocabulary and the use of our faculties such that we only look for God in one or two places, and only express our understanding of Him in ways which were scripted by someone else, or determine His goodness based on undeveloped assessment skills. Does an unused ability to express what “is”, dull our gifts of being able to assess it? Or perhaps even diminish our spectrum of being able to experience it?
What would it be like to seek God with all of our heart—that forsaken, atrophied muscle? Or with our soul—what does that even mean? Our ability to understand the Kingdom requires using all of the faculties we’ve been given in order to experience life more fully; faculties like intuition, which some may write off as wishy-washy, exclusive giftings, wholly unreliable, or perhaps the devil himself. With practice, comes the courage to employ more appropriate senses, as well as the confidence to determine “goodness” for our own selves.
At some point, the quest for the Kingdom of God must become our own search. At some point, we need to seek it with everything we are, because the Kingdom is designed to be indwelled by us personally, and to dwell within us completely. It is intended to be experienced by us first hand, and we are designed to express it. The fact that “Jesus loves me this I know” should come from a deeper knowledge than just “for the Bible tells me so”. The Kingdom was not designed merely to be read about, or only to be studied from a book, or to observe in someone else, or to reach finally when we leave earth. When we seek the Kingdom of God, we come to discover that it is personal, present, and exquisite. It is nourishment to for the hearty appetite of the soul.
There comes a time to experience for ourselves grace, restoration, and our own end. Participation in the tasting experience and all of the risk therein, enables God to develop our ability to discern, recall, live in and seek God’s Kingdom more accurately. So what would be a risky new experience for you? Praying? Trusting? Resting? Confessing? Ministering? Repenting? Retreating? Asking questions? Asking for help? Oh, so many tasting opportunities! All of which might present themselves as torture for the undeveloped palette. But do you know what will actually happen if you engage in one of these experiences? Taste and see for yourself!