And a view of Jesus. I think they are all deeply connected. Let me explain.
Jesus, drink a beer?
First, let me recognize that for some people, Jesus and beer are in opposition. Jesus couldn’t have–wouldn’t have–had a drink with anyone. You see, the argument goes, alcoholism is a problem, and has been one of the most abused substances on our planet. Jesus would avoid booze. No good Christian drinks, after all, and Jesus was nothing if not a good Christian.
Humbly, I disagree. Almost all scholars agree that beer and wine were normal beverages in Jesus day, served at almost every meal. The Bible (Ephesians 5:18) tells us to avoid getting drunk. Drunkenness was a problem then, too, so the drinks were not so “new” or watered down that they didn’t contain alcohol. Jesus certainly drank wine at the last supper. And don’t forget that Jesus angered the church leaders of his day because he “ate and drank with sinners.” It wasn’t the Perrier which got them upset, but fellowship over the mead and the wine.
I believe that Jesus never got drunk, or disoriented any of his faculties. I am committed to following that example. But the Gospels, as I read them, say he drank some. Without encouraging anyone to drink to extreme or violate a twelve-step promise, let me release beer from its puritanical corral of brimstone.
This blog is about the ways Celtic Christianity celebrated community.
Life is a journey.
Perhaps it is the explorer, wayfarer, in me: Celtic Christians often called themselves, “Peregrinari Pro Christo,” (pilgrims for Christ.) This illumines one of the core understandings of these Irish and Scottish followers of Jesus: “Life is a journey, a spiritual and actual pilgrimage.” It also reminded them that they, like all who have breath, “have a tendency to wander.”
We hunger for connection.
I resonate with this. I think we are all searching for something, and—if or when we find it—we then begin searching for a way to share that which we have found with others. For example, find a good restaurant, and we can’t wait to tell a friend. Discover a hidden coffee shop, and we are impatient to bring someone along with us. Stumble into a beautiful mountain glade, and we think, “Oh, so-and-so would love this! I wish they were here with me!” While we may never board a plane or speak a new language, we all are on a journey, searching for meaning and wonder, and—more specifically—for shared meaning and wonder.
We hunger for home.
Here I can find another reason why Celtic faith catches hold of me: travelers and wayfarers always hunger for a home to return to. This is the deep urge in every heart I have met—to find shared meaning, but with intimacy, acceptance, safety, and belonging. You know this feeling. You feel it simply when you climb into your own bed after long trip. Safe. Or walking through a door where you don’t need to knock, and shouting, “Anybody home?” It is a Thanksgiving table, and a hug at the airport.
For me, it is found in a dark pub with friends, in a cup of coffee and a listening ear, in a candle-lit Christmas Eve service, in a chocolate-chip pancake breakfast on a snow day. Celtic Christianity and spirituality reveled in this deep sense of community, spiritual friendship, family loyalty, and the intimate communion of all who follow Jesus. They were travelers who understood and relished “home,” knowing that we cannot thrive in life alone.
Holiness can be found around us every day.
Finally, I love the fact that the Celtic believers in Jesus were not “dualistic” in their world view. Sometimes religious traditions (of many faith systems, I think) fall into the dichotomy that the real world is evil and the spiritual world is good. In austerity and fear, things that are concrete and physical become items or experiences a godly person should push away.
In contrast, Celtic Christianity believed that Jesus was always near to the earth, available, rather than sequestered in Heaven. They understood the immanence of the spiritual world, the goodness of nature, the value of all life, and the joy of tangible hospitality. While they sought contentment in simplicity and avoided gluttony, they enjoyed the taste of a good meal or a dark ale, the smell of wood shavings, the loamy feel of garden soil on their hands, and the quiet of a walk in the glen. To them, God’s goodness was tangible. They could swim in it at a beach, and roll his goodness around on their tongue, and feel its warmth from the hearth. Real. Present. Here. Now.
I know it tarnishes me, but I love the Celtic poetry of St. Brigid of Kildare, a friend of St. Patrick. In Martha-ish style, she expresses perfectly the Gaelic convergence of community, spirituality, hospitality, and God’s companionship:
I would like to have the men of Heaven in my own house:
With vats of good cheer laid out for them.
I would like to have the three Marys, their fame is so great.
I would like people from every corner of Heaven.
I would like them to be cheerful in their drinking,
I would like to have Jesus too here amongst them.
I would like a great lake of beer for the King of Kings,
I would like to be watching Heaven’s family, drinking it through all eternity.
One reading of the original Greek of John 1:14, reflecting Middle Eastern culture, is, “He pitched his tent in the middle of our camp.” The Message Version says it this way, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” It does stretch us a bit, but I remember that at the last supper Jesus said that he wouldn’t drink wine again until he was with his followers in heaven. Logically, then, I guess there will be a time to sip at a fine Pinot Grigio with Christ in heaven. Or even a Fat Tire? (Probably a Chamay Ale, deliciously brewed by Belgian monks.) This seems to speak truth to my soul.
For this is the blue-collar, carpenter Jesus I have met. Real. Present. Here. Now. God-with-us. In the neighborhood, at the wedding feast or the Christmas party.
May I get you a another beer, Lord?