I have a friend who volunteers at our local wine festival. When it was over she was given a case of bottles of wine that were all partially consumed. They had all been opened. Some were nearly empty. Some were quite nearly full. She also scored a box of wine and several bottles of beer. Clearly it was too much alcohol for one person to consume on her own so she generously offered us the box full of bottles of wine.
We enjoyed trying wines we wouldn’t normally be able to afford. We tasted dry wines and sweet wines, different wines and familiar wines. The festival was nearly two months ago now and we’re down to only two mostly empty bottles of wine in our fridge. This kind gift of free wine reminded me of another experience I had three years ago with free wine. As I re-read the following piece, I felt the same rush of embarrassment flush over me….
Lowell and I went to see All My Sons, an Arthur Miller tragedy, on Saturday night. During intermission we decided to share a glass of wine. We got in line. It’s a small community theater. The foyer is intimate, small, cozy. As we waited in line Lowell chatted with the gentleman behind him–his major professor from his graduate study days. It’s small town moments like this that I love. We are part of the community. When we got to the front of the queue I handed the bartender my credit card, asking simultaneously, “Do you take plastic?”
He shook his head with a little regret and a little joy but then he continued, “What do you want? I’ll be happy to get it for you.” I was embarrassed and a little flustered, “Oh, that’s ok.”
“No really. I give away alcohol all the time. I’m technically not allowed to charge. This is all donation based. If you want you can come next time and leave a donation to cover it.”
Knowing myself, my memory, I shook my head, “With my forty- two year old brain I don’t trust myself. I wouldn’t remember!”
“Oh that’s ok. What do you want? What can I give you?”
I was flustered. The line was waiting. It’s a small space. Everyone was watching as this other drama unfolded.
“I’ll have a glass of red wine please.” I asked sheepishly, awkwardly.
Lowell’s professor leaned in and offered, “Lowell, what do you want? I’ll cover yours.”
“Well now you have a choice,“ The bartender replied flamboyantly. At this point Lowell leaned in and whispered that he was going to the restroom. I was on my own.
The grey haired bartender began the tour of red wine choices. He described each one with poetry and enthusiasm. This one was mild and dry, this one full-bodied and rich. I tried to interrupt with a quick choice. Sure, that one, that sounds great. Thank you. I was so self-conscious.
The bartender grabbed a stemmed glass and flew it through the air. He placed it on the table and poured the fluid red generosity into it. I thanked him sincerely and walked down the line, past the audience.
As I passed, a friend of mine spotted me. She reached out and touched me on the arm and said she’d pay for it.
I was flushed and flustered as I found my seat in the dimly lit theater. I blushed as I sipped my blushed beverage. Hesitatingly. Red wine. Slowly.
Lowell joined me. He whispered in close, “You handled that really well.” We shared the wine. Savoring it. The lights dimmed and the play continued.
Later that night as I relived the play and the memory of the intermission– I was struck by the grace and generosity of it all. I was also amazed at my own reactions. I had been so unsettled. So self-conscious. So disconcerted.
But God is like that bartender. He gives away Free Wine. He wants us to have the best, our favourite. He wants to lavish it on us with flare and flash. It’s grace! It’s unmerited! It’s extravagant and embarrassing and unnerving. And we’re surrounded by it. We receive it; we extend it to those around us. This is amazing grace!
“Is anyone thirsty? Come and drink—even if you have no money!
Come, take your choice of wine or milk—it’s all free!
Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength?
Why pay for food that does you no good?
Listen to me, and you will eat what is good.
You will enjoy the finest food. “Come to me with your ears wide open.
Listen, and you will find life.”