bapstism · confirmation · wine

Saving the Choice Wine: Lessons in the Napa Fires

When you pass through waters, I will be with you;through rivers, you shall not be swept away.When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned,nor will flames consume you.

Dear Susan,

Back in the day, when I was warping young minds in religious ed, I invented the fire and water game. This was part of our sacrament unit. I would read out a statement about baptism (water) or confirmation (fire) and the kids would hold up a picture of flames or a water droplet, identifying the corresponding sacrament. While I thought this was a lot of fun, they greatly preferred the Holy Spirit Wind Balloon racers I gave them. Oh well.

50th birthday hot air balloon ride of death

I have thought of this moment many times over the last couple of months, as our country has been devastated by fire and water. As you know, the Napa Valley has always been a special place for my husband and me.  It is our favorite place to get away together.  We celebrated our tenth anniversary and my fiftieth birthday there. I will never forget the moment when you helpfully showed us a video of a hot air balloon being engulfed in flames right before we jumped into the basket for our ride. Good times. While I have never been known to turn down a glass of wine, for us, the wine experience is as much about bonding and relationships as it is about the drink.


While we were in recovery mode from Harvey, one of our favorite vineyards sent us – and all their Houston customers-  a beautiful gift box of wine.  The note from Tom Gamble, owner of Gamble Family Vineyards, said that they didn’t know how to help everyone specifically, but they did know how to do wine, and that is what they shared with us.  The simple power of this statement has resonated with me over the last week. It elegantly defines discernment and stewardship. Share what you do well and share what you have.

It was a shock to see just a few weeks later that they were facing a disaster of their own. With great sorrow, we learned of our friends and acquaintances leaving their homes and businesses this past week as Napa was engulfed in flames. The fires hit at one of the worst possible times, the end of harvest season and right before the annual crush.  I wished I could send them some of our water. I know firsthand that this is not a lesson anyone wants to learn, the complete surrender of control to forces beyond your control.

It did not escape my notice that fire, our symbol of confirmation, represents the courage and passion given to us by the Holy Spirit in the sacrament. Sometimes the passion of the Holy Spirit acting on people can be mistaken for the effects of wine.  Consider this Pentecost quote from Acts 2:

They were all astounded and bewildered, and said to one another, “What does this mean?” But others said, scoffing, “They have had too much new wine.”  Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice, and proclaimed to them, “You who are Jews, indeed all of you staying in Jerusalem. Let this be known to you, and listen to my words. These people are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning.  No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:  ‘It will come to pass in the last days,’ God says, ‘that I will pour out a portion of my spirit upon all flesh…I will pour out a portion of my spirit in those days…And I will work wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below: blood, fire, and a cloud of smoke.


End times aside, the dual images of fire and water keep playing back in my mind. While the floods brought us great destruction, they also offer a chance at new life, which the water in Baptism represents. Our recovery, while not without great pain, offers us a rebirth. The passion and courage of the spirit in fire are and the renewal of life in water are the ingredients necessary to the recovery of our communities.  Just as baptism and confirmation are sacraments of initiation, the floods and fires force us into a new way of living. Everything is reevaluated and to survive, we must be strengthened.

I, for one, have faith in our recovery. I look forward to trying the smoky vintages of 2017 one day. I think, just like the wedding at Cana, God will save the best wine for last. I have also learned to stick to what I do well. I cannot help everyone or do everything, but I need to learn to share what I do well.  So what do Texans do well? The barbecue is already on its way to California.





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