The Wine of Creation

Wine is the sole salvation,
Its worship and works sublime;
Be firm thy determination,
Hafiz be saved in time.1

Life may be likened to a tavern in which we figure as thirsty customers. 

Tavern culture has its stages.  In the first stage, judgment is lacking.  Any mind-numbing inebriant will do.  The headache that follows is simply a prompt to drain another glass.

In the second stage, it becomes clear that there are as many varieties of intoxication as there are wines.  One vintage depresses, another exalts.  The palate must be educated.  This is the station of the spiritual connoisseur.  The connoisseur’s drink of choice is “spiritual pleasure and sweetness.”2

But there is a higher stage still.  First one drank without discernment.  Then one drank discriminately.  In the highest stage, one discerns perfectly and yet one drinks whatever is poured.

A crucial illustration of this mystical station is to be found in the life of Jesus (peace be upon him).  We read in the Gospel of Matthew (26:36-9):

Jesus came with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane.  He said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’  He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedec.  Anguish and dismay came over him, and he said to them, ‘My heart is ready to break with grief. Stop here, and stay awake with me.’  He went on a little, fell on his face in prayer, and said, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by.  Yet not as I will, but as thou wilt.’

What a piercingly tragic and yet incontestably beautiful view into the inner life of a prophet of God!

Facing the imminent prospect of arrest, betrayal, torture, and death, Jesus revealed himself to be fully human.  Yet he also revealed himself to be something more: an incorruptible emissary of the Real, sworn body, heart and soul to the will of the One.  Though his heart might burst in his chest, he is ready to drink to the dregs life’s bitterest cup.

Fra Angelico used to weep as he painted Jesus.  As his tears debouched into the ocean of Christ’s pathos, his hand rendered spiritually accurate portraits of the Messiah’s face.  Three years ago I had the good fortune of viewing an exhibition of Fra Angelico’s work at The Metropolitan Museum.  As my gaze met “Christ Crowned with Thorns” it was as if time stopped and I stood face-to-face with the living glance of Jesus, Spirit of God.

It was a glance that words will never suffice to describe.  It was the glance of one who has drunk down in a single draft the whole of the world, with all of its swoons of tenderness and all of its agonies of despair.  It was the glance of one whose throbbing lifeblood is the very wine of creation.

***

(1) A.J. Arberry, trans., Hafiz: Fifty Poems (Cambridge: Cambridge U.P., 1977): p. 123.
(2) ‘Ali B. Uthman Al-Jullabi Al-Hujwiri, Kashf al-Mahjub of Al Hujwiri: The Oldest Persian Treatise on Sufism, trans. Reynold A. Nicholson (London: Luzac & Co., 1976), p. 392.

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