Monday, July 29, 2002

“Go then, eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart; for God has already approved your works. “

-- Ecclesiastes 9:7

The Water of Life

It is a curious fact that many alcoholic drinks identified with a particular nationality—Whiskey, Vodka, and Aquavit, for instance—derive their names from words for “water of life.” It is partially curious just because it reveal more about us than perhaps the originators of those drinks could know, but is also curious because of the similarity of alcohol to life. That is, alcohol (at least for those who drink at all) plays a role in friendship very much like the role the world plays in our relationship to God.

Worldly life and alcohol both have the potential to enslave us to them. But properly regulated, and understood as an enabler or an enhancer, they both become a means to an end. Whether of the highest quality or the lowest, both can be addictive, however much they repulse at first. (Try a few shots of Jagermeister if you doubt this.)

A gathering of friends held over bottles of good wine often has a magical quality about it that merely sitting down to quaff lacks. Our very word “convivial” comes from the latin “convivium,” which, like the Greek “symposion,” was an all night party of alcohol and conversation.

The use you put both to has much more to say about their value than anything else. Some are born at a station in life equivalent to a Chateau Lafite Rothschild; others, Bud Light. But both hold temptations to various kinds of abuse. Some get addicted to their consumption, others to their possession. For the hard-core wine addict, actual drinking of the wine is anathema.

And so too with life. The wealthy person born of high station (the Lafite) can become consumed with recounting the station, listing the pedigrees of ancestors who actually did something, fighting to preserve the value of the trust fund, and so miss out on the opportunity to actually live, to take advantage of a station in life that need not demand many hours a day for mere subsistence. They never ever drink of the wine in the cellar.

The impoverished person of lower station (the Bud Light) faces many more day-to-day obstacles, but often rises above them. For that person, the doors to the house and the refrigerator are both always open to company, and every moment is a good one to share a drink and some fellowship.

Of course, the poor person can be an alcoholic and the wealthy one the true philanthropist, who never turns a poor person away from the door. The contrast is not true in all cases. It merely illustrates that the quality of the alcohol and the quality of the life lie mainly in the use you make of them. And, in both cases, we know exceptions. There do seem to be people who can be highly-functional alcoholics and still remain agreeable companions, and highly selfish people who have apparently missed the point of existence who are fundamentally content. But choosing the most dangerous path merely because someone once crossed it is not a choice the vast majority of humanity can gamble with and win.

Drinking oneself numb is very much akin to thrill-seeking. In both cases, the risk of addiction increases, and in both cases the purpose is to quiet the still small voice that suggests something may have gone wrong. Soon enough, the purpose is gone entirely, and all that is left is a sieve trying to fill itself up.

Just as various heretics in the early church and occasionally more recently have decreed that the world as such is evil (Disputations will certainly note some in the comments section of this item) so some people who have no addiction nevertheless crusade against alcohol. Both assume the potential for abuse will always lead to abuse, and so condemn as evil that which is merely a tool for good or evil.

Why do I tell you all this?

One of my readers asked in the comments section on my Friday blog about Marriage, what the real purpose is? He gave the classic example of the married person who meets his or her “soulmate” and “knows” that the new person will make him or her happy.

Now, I cannot here speak about the purpose of a purely secular marriage. (I do wish we could disconnect marriage with job benefits more completely, so that those who use it as a benefits program or as PR for their film careers could find a better way to do those things, that don’t undermine all forms of marriage. But that is a blog for another day.) But for a Christian the purpose of marriage has nothing to do with happiness, though that is of course one of its effects. The purpose of marriage is to form a spiritual bond, to emulate in life the spiritual bond of Christ and His Church, and to have and raise children within the light of Christ.

If you set out to capture “the perfect buzz” you will more likely wind up getting sick on the gutter or never quite hit that pleasant level. If you set out to “be happy” in a marriage, some therapist’s child is likely to get a new pony. But if you soak up the companionship and alcohol around you in a measured way, “the perfect buzz” often comes. If you and your spouse both make loving, honoring, and obeying the purpose of your marriage, you will probably wonder what all this twaddle about “finding a soulmate” was all about.

There are exceptions, of course, because life offers no promises save impermanence. But setting out to control the things you can is a little like shaving the dice in your favor. They don’t always come up your way, but you surely ought to bet on 7s anyway.


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