20/20 in 2020 Article: Our blog’s theme for this year is “20/20 in 2020: Setting Our Vision on Christ.” Throughout the year, we’ll post articles which relate to this theme, which encourages you, our readers, to turn away from the world and toward the Holy One. Enjoy the post below, which is part of our yearlong series.
Bartender is an odd show for me to like. For one, I do not drink. All the richness of the beverages and their mixtures and flavors is completely lost to me, except for the colors and their very interesting history. And trust me, this show opens each bottle with utmost delicacy, attention, and care, and even gives you the recipe at the end. It could almost be a metaphor, since a lot of the very human problems and experiences it deals with are so completely beyond my life experience for now, dealing as they deal with the trial of tribulations of adult life (late adult life?) and the moments in which it is reconsidered after the years, that I can only relate to them in a somewhat oblique way (Japesland, who no doubt understand these aspects of the show better than I, once commented on the virtues of Bartender here). It is likely that, as I have heard happens with good liquors, I will come to appreciate it better with the years. Yet, I loved the series.
Bartender does not rush. It is episodic, calm, even quiet, while I am usually more interested in drama, action, comedy, colorful symbols, saving everyone, solving riddles, exploring new worlds, or engaging in deep philosophy. The world of Eden´s Hall—the comfortable bar of the eponymous Bartender—is quite different: There may be moments of healing grace, sudden realizations, an elegant use of camera and narrators, small mysteries or so, but the general tone is of slow contemplation of the details. Yet, I found it strangely compelling—it may be the closest I have been to experiencing the healing power of an iyashikei at this stage of my life—and went along with the flow. And then there was the last episode, and I sort of understood why the reason for this attraction became fully clear in a way that, surprise, involves an explicitly Christian reference, and one, I think, that is relevant for our theme in 2020.
For what is worth, spoilers ahead for the final episode of Bartender.
Ryu Sasakura, the mysterious, ever-elegant young man who helps others time after time in this remote corner of the city, where doors are heavy, as to separate those who enter from the outside world, is going to end his apprenticeship in Eden´s Hall. He has been until now the Glass of God, or of the Gods (Kami no Glass), the supreme bartender, the man who can bring the providential drink for the lost souls of the city. Thus, he is going to serve a legendary drink called “The Water of Life” (Macallan 1946, an unique whisky which had to be made with peated malt due to the high post-WWII prices of coal, and which happens to be one of the greatest, according to the show at least), and let his place be occupied by another. As you see, the Christian imaginary, references, and names are quite explicit, but in this episode they become more so.
As it happens, in the world of the show, the bartenders who serve drinks which providentially help their clients are sort of an order, whose origin he explains to our narrator. It is said that there was a lost traveler in the Alps who was saved in the middle of a storm by the hospitality of an abbey isolated from the world, whose monks treated him to a drink they had been making for generations, and which gave him strength and hope. He could not find the abbey ever again. According to Ryu’s words, he had been given the Water of Life. That is, love and hope to go on.
As someone familiar with monastic life (a classmate of mine, one of my best friends, is now a young nun in Spanish convent), this story is familiar to me. “Let all guests” says the Rule of St. Benedict for the monks, “who arrive be received like Christ, for He is going to say, ‘I came as a guest, and you received Me.’” And later, it says that in the reception “of the poor and of pilgrims the greatest care and solicitude should be shown, because it is especially in them that Christ is received.”
The peace which the show radiates, the understanding, the mature love and nobility of a well-done job, are directly inspired in those who try to serve Christ in their brothers and sisters from the place where they are. They are akin to what I feel when visiting my friend and her community to ask for prayer, receive advice, get perspective, or simply enjoy the company, to remember that the Cross is steady while the world turns. I may not have a favorite bar yet, but her convent, Iesu Communio, has become one of the most important places in my life. In any place devoted to prayer, community and service, where Our Lord is at the center, some of this peace may arise. Ryu and the bartenders have continued to learn and transmit this tradition of taking care of whoever enters the bar as they would serve the person who has loved them the most, as they would a king or a queen, to serve him or her in the big and small sufferings of life, and have thus become signs of living hope in this strange world in which we often feel trapped.
From the first episode, which shows Ryu sacrificing the best he has to serve a client who happens to be an enemy of his guild, trying to find out where he became embittered, and healing his rage in a very Christ-like way, to the last, where he interestingly mentions being happy to choose not the craft of bartending, but the life of a bartender, an undercurrent of gentle and patient love is established. Much like him, we do not simply try to did what Christ did, but rather to identify with Him, not finding a place for Him in our lives, but rather make our entire life His: He is alive, and wants to live in us: to be Christian, because we are loved by Christ. The lesson may be that living adventurously the thrilling plan of salvation offered to the Children of God may look to others as doing nothing important, perhaps serve one person at a time in small things in a discreet corner of the adult world, full of trials and tribulations I may not understand all that well yet. The Kingdom of which Our Lord is King looks often as a small seed to the world.
The point of the Macallan, according to Ryu, is that it was produced in the middle of the war when the future seemed dubious, with whatever was at hand, and thus it became a sign of hope. Much like that, we all try to live our vocation by serving Christ in others. We may be called to give a strong, unique testimony like that of the Baptist, puzzling the world. Indeed, there are moments in the show in which Ryu is given a seemingly unwordly gift to give his client the beverage whose meaning providentially answers the question he is posing, and there is something divine in his art, thus his nickname.
But often the sign of hope arises when a worldly vision deems this or that act of love unworthy or absurd, because by trusting Christ and trying to identify with Him and His word, we understand that the word we see is not absolute. The Water of Life, which Our Lord promised to the Samaritan woman and that we have received through Baptism, is also there. He said this Water would live in us, and flow like rivers from us. Ubi charitas et amore, Deus ibi est: wherever there is true love, in the struggles of life and human limitations, God is present.
Bartender can be streamed on Crunchyroll.