Water into Wine: Desiring for a Personal Experience of God.
Updated: Aug 15
As Christians, we have listened to homilies on Jesus’ first miracle at Cana; changing of water into wine (Jn 2). Homilists focus on the relationship between Jesus and his mother, the need to listen to Jesus, Christian hospitality, the relationship between Christ and the Church, water meant for cleansing becoming wine, jars acquiring a new meaning, life of faith... These themes are helpful to transform our lives. But isn’t the goal of spiritual transformation, a life of intimacy and union with God? Jesus’ miracles, in John’s gospel, is closely linked to Jesus’ life and mission, which is an invitation to enter into the Trinitarian life. Through Jesus, we accept the offer of love from God and enter into a personal relationship of intimacy and union with God. Let us focus our reflections on this miracle from the point of our spiritual goal: a personal experience of God.
Water, in the jars, would have remained as water till Jesus transformed it into delicious wine. In the spiritual life, we have a choice either to remain as water or let ourselves be transformed into a delectable wine. Water, in this miracle, was meant for ritual purification, and hence it had a necessary and essential function, but it was unaware, that in the presence of Jesus it could become flavorsome wine. To be water is to remain just at the initial stages of spiritual life, but the same water has the potency to become a tasty wine, i.e., to have personal, direct knowledge and experience of God.
Knowledge is of two kinds. Knowledge can be acquired by reading books or listening to others. This knowledge is informative and helpful for us in our day to day life. We depend on others for acquired knowledge. The second type of knowledge is the result of my own personal experience, my direct contact with reality itself. It is experiential, immediate, and personal. One, who has never tasted the wine, will have an intellectual knowledge of it by the association of different concepts. But for one, who has tasted the wine, knowledge is personal and direct.
In the beginnings of our spiritual life, our knowledge of God is mediated and acquired. We need this knowledge but when the time comes, do we ever make a transition to a personal knowledge/experience of God? Catechism, theology, religious books, homilies, prayers, popular devotions, sacred symbols and images, religious rituals, and celebrations can arouse a burning desire in us for God. But what do we do after that? Knowledge of God acquired from others should lead us to an intimate, personal, involved, experiential knowledge that leads to personal communion with God. It seems to appear that our religious life is mostly at the level of “should” and “ought to” using the scale of reward/punishment and guilt. But do we personalize what we receive as our own, to have an experience of God? It calls for growing up spiritually.
Spiritual practices, however beautiful, can only point to the invincible mystery that can never be fully comprehended but can only be experienced. The great St. Thomas Aquinas, after his own direct experience of God, considered everything he wrote as rubbish. The sad part is we spent hours poring over his words but not taking time to be with the One, his words were pointing to. Buddha used to say, “When I point to the moon, look at the moon and not my finger” and “Just because the boat has helped you to cross the river, there is no use carrying the boat on your head.” And in the words of Jesus, “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (Jn 5:39). To be transformed into wine is to be with the One the words point to.
Choosing to remain as water is to stay put at the acquired knowledge of God, being content just with verbal and vocal prayer and the external religious celebrations. At one level, being water is of great help and emotionally fulfilling as well but little do we realize that at a deeper level the same water has the possibility of being transformed into wine. Why should we choose to remain as water when we can become a delicious wine? For this we need to go beyond normal and mental consciousness, going beyond words, visuals, and imaginations to seek unity with the divine. It is literally “tasting to see how good the Lord is” (Ps.34:8). It is a direct experience of God. If “prayer is to be with the one who loves us” (St. Theresa of Avila), then being the wine is just being present with the one, whom eyes cannot see or ears cannot hear. Being wine is the death of the ego so that “It is no longer I who live but it is Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). In true love, is there any need for words? Prayer here is just being present to and being with the Other. Isn’t this what Jesus prayed: “I made known to them thy name, and I will make it known, that the love with which thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them” (Jn 17:23).
To be transformed into wine is to be the image and likeness of God. Just as a mirror reflects the image of the object that is in front of it, so too, being transformed into wine, we reflect the image and likeness of God, we reflect nothing but God. Meister Eckhart phrased it so well: An image is not of itself, nor is it for itself. It rather springs from the thing whose reflection it is and belongs to it with all its being. It owes nothing to a thing other than that whose image it is; nothing else is at its origin. An image takes it's being immediately from that of which it is the image and has one sole being with it, and it is that same being. Being the image and likeness of God is our true identity, our original nature. It is in being this alone that will give us joy that is not caused.
The miracle is instantaneous. What takes a long process for winemaking (gathering, crushing, and fermenting, and waiting), for Jesus, it is instant. It is here and now. That’s what happens when the ego is dropped and we totally surrender ourselves to God. Is there a need for prolonged tapas, asceticism, and punishing one’s body to be with God?
Let us not limit ourselves to merely being water, but with human effort and grace, we can let ourselves be transformed into wine. Let’s not hesitate to let go of the familiar ground on which we are standing to embrace the Mystery that can only be experienced in stillness and silence. Abraham was comfortable in his own land until he had the courage to let go of his land and people to enter the land promised by Yahweh. Moses encountered God in the burning bush only when he let go of the Pharaoh’s palace, and the first disciples of Jesus had to leave their boats and their nets to ‘know’ Jesus. Do we have the courage to let go of ourselves to be transformed into wine?