Andy Hawes is Warden of Edenham Regional Retreat House
The season of ‘good cheer’ is upon us. Unfortunately the ‘Christmas Spirit’ is for most people forty percent proof and not related to the Holy Spirit! Dear reader, do not assume that I am anti-drink. As the son of a publican of some thirty-five years standing I am fully aware of the good aspects of alcohol as well as the bad.
I was convinced at an early age that total abstinence was not an option for the Christian. I recall hearing the account of the wedding at Cana in the school chapel and rejoicing that Jesus produced so much wine for a party; I felt more positive about living in a pub!
Scripture is punctuated with positive comments on drink; ‘He gives wine to gladden the heart of man’ from the psalms; there is the advice of Paul to Timothy that ‘a little wine for his stomach’s sake’ would be better for him than unrelenting ascetic practice. At the last supper the Lord takes the cup of wine to become the memorial of his blood. There are lots of good things about alcohol in its many guises. But, it is the source of great many woes.
As a father of five young adults I have become acutely aware of the dangerous drinking culture that now prevails. With palatable spirit-based drinks now readily available at any time of any day to youngsters, it is far too easy for drink to be consumed for drunkenness’ sake, rather than as a kind of social catalyst and something to savour as a good and lovely thing.
Several times in the last ten years I have removed all drink from our home because I did not want in any way to be seen as condoning the dreadful self-poisoning that teenagers seem to find irresistible.
There is not a drinking reader of this magazine who ought not to ask themselves a question, ‘Does my consumption of alcohol provide a bad example and witness to others – particularly the young?’ I find that some people can get quite bad tempered if it is suggested that they might rein in the gin bottle for the sake of the Gospel.
I recall the late Bishop John Richards in a Chrism Mass sermon challenging clergy about their behaviour on pilgrimages and other jollies. He suggested that a good number ought to spend more time on their knees and less time at the bar.
Te question of how much alcohol to mix in to the cocktail of the Christmas festival is a pertinent one for a good proportion of people. It is not only a matter of self-discipline, it is a matter of witnessing to Christ. By the same token it would be quite wrong to be priggish and self-righteous in the matter.
As in so many areas of the Christian life it is about searching for the point of balance. Therefore I advise those who are prepared to recognize this as a problem to have a good think and pray about their use and abuse of alcohol, not just for their own bodies’ sake, but also for the sake of the Body of Christ.