Today, I began a new hobby: beer making. I received a couple kits for my birthday, and have now joined people around the world in the home brewers’ club. The first day took me about 3.5 hours from start to finish, which gave me plenty of time to think about brewing and its history as a discipline for monks. I want to explore this ancient exercise and see what we can learn from it for today.
During the Middle Ages, several religious orders of monks and nuns followed a mandate that required them to earn their livelihoods and not sustain themselves on the charity of others. For some, this meant keeping sheep and selling the wool. For others is entailed farming to raise the food they would need. For yet others, brewing beer became the manual labour of choice.
At a time when most local water was suspect and hearty foods were hard to come by, a heavy beer could both hydrate and nourish a peasant community. I don’t claim that the brew currently fermenting in my closet will be high on anyone’s nutritional standards, but I think there are many things we can glean from this discipline.
First and foremost, I love that this daily spiritual activity connects the monks to the nearby communities in a very tangible way. The same activity that is meant to draw those practicing it closer to God also allows the brewers to draw closer to their neighbours. The Rule of St Benedict mandates that anything sold from a monastery must be sold cheaper than regular market price. This also aids the poor, who might otherwise be unable to afford such basic foodstuffs. As I search for meaningful disciplines to add to my spiritual walk (which I will probably talk about in a future post), a connection to both God and others will be important.
The process of beer making can be very ritualistic. Temperatures must be monitored, ingredients are added at specific intervals, and care must be taken with every item used to ensure proper sanitation. Each of these aspects allows time for prayer and contemplation. I am able to think on God’s purity as I sanitize the tools and workspace. I can thank God for the incredible process that he has worked in me as I add hops to my boiling concoction. I am able to ask for patience as I wait for the finished product to ferment and be ready for drinking. These aren’t necessary steps in the creation of beer, but if I choose to instill this hobby with God’s love, then it becomes a very prayerful use of my time.
This is also a productive hobby. Many monks and nuns spent hours each day working to keep their hands busy. I know that, given a complete day off by myself, I would be tempted to play video games or read a book or cruise the internet all day. Brewing gives me something to do for a few hours each week (much like blogging) that leaves me with something of greater value at the end than idle relaxation. (I don’t think there is anything wrong with taking time to relax, but I prefer to look back on my day with something accomplished. It’s not for everyone).
Finally, this discipline leaves me with a product designed for celebration and community. Since I rarely drink, and never drink by myself, this beer will probably be used in the company of guests. We can enjoy the amazing gifts we receive from God as we share an evening together. The brothers who live in monasteries do life together, and so should we. Very few things can bring guys together like a couple of beers before dinner.
God has blessed me with a new pastime for my days off, and I feel incredibly deep gratitude for it. My aim is to use this hobby to meditate and draw nearer to God, and to join others in fellowship and celebration. I’m very excited for the future of my home brewing adventures.
To start a conversation, what hobbies do you enjoy? How can you turn these hobbies into pathways along your spiritual journey? Are you able to dig deeper into the greater things of life while enjoying your pastimes? Let me know!