by Mary Lou Logsdon
“And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.” — Mark 2:22
I helped clear out a friend’s storage unit last summer, where once important acquisitions were wrapped in faded newsprint, nested inside cardboard boxes, and stacked on shelves, awaiting new use. One by one, we unpacked each container, time capsules from our youth. Among the artifacts was a suede wineskin, the kind we wore across our winter wrapped torsos–kidney shaped, trimmed in smooth green leather and braided red cord. The screw-top lid was easily removed for a swig of throat-stinging warmth on a blustery ski outing. The skin of this relic was stiff and brittle and had lost all its elasticity, its usefulness long gone.
It was easy to toss the 1960s wineskin, but I know I still cling to less tangible (while no less real) wineskins. I was listening to Brené Brown recently, where she talked about the traditional gender roles we unconsciously carry. She described her own awakening to the mixed message of how women want both a caring, emotionally available man, while also wanting him to ride up on his legendary white horse to conquer all and sweep her away. Similarly, men can enthusiastically share the financial advantage of a two-income family, while resist sharing power in other areas of their relationship. New wine in old wineskins.
How many of us live out of the expectations of our parents and families, tripping over assumptions that no longer fit? We hold on to forms not supple enough for our twenty-first century lives.
When I became a mother at the age of thirty-three, my own mother wanted me to be a stay-at-home-mom, to put my new wine into her wineskin. I knew I had to fashion my own wineskin–the wine was similar, motherhood, but I wanted to find a way that suited my growing family, my temperament, and my experience. It wasn’t that I didn’t time travel back to my mom’s life. During my maternity leave I trekked to the farmer’s market and brought home a half bushel of aromatic, red-ripe tomatoes. I gathered empty jars, bought lids and rings, borrowed a speckled blue canner, and slipped my baby into a backpack while I set about canning tomatoes. It felt like motherhood. It was also hot, messy, and time-consuming. I have not canned tomatoes in the thirty-three years since; it was a drink from the old wineskin.
Prayer is like wine, an elixir of life. My old wineskin was Latin Mass with Gregorian Chant, memorized prayer, pat answers to challenging questions. As I grew in my relationship with God, those old forms were too constraining. The wineskin was cracking and failing, leaking the precious lifeblood of my faith journey. I explored new forms of prayer–centering prayer, contemplation, quiet reflection. I found a welcoming community that was housed in a light and open worship space. These new wineskins are well suited to my expanding relationship with God. The old wineskin wasn’t wrong or bad, but lacked the elasticity my new wine needed. I occasionally drink and appreciate the old wine, but its wineskin is not the right container for the wine of my sixties.
As I unpack my friend’s old, desiccated wineskin, I remember laughter, youthful exuberance, and warm, lasting friendships. Those memories are not tossed out with the old wineskin; they are a part of me that I still carry. They are the yeast that ferments the new wine I become.
I realize as I change and grow wiser, these wineskins may not always serve me. I may again let go of the old and seek fresh wineskins. This is the spiritual journey–filling, emptying, moving into and on. In the end, I will shed my whole wineskin, when it is no longer needed. I, too, will be poured out as a libation into a fullness beyond my wildest imagining.
Mary Lou Logsdon provides spiritual direction and directs retreats in the Twin Cities. She has an MA in Theology and a certificate in spiritual direction from St Catherine University, St Paul. She teaches in the Sacred Ground formation program. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.