Can you enjoy a good drink and still be spiritual?

“He that drinks beer and goes to bed mellow, lives as he ought to and dies a hearty fellow.” ~ English Saying

As I write this, it is Friday morning. I put in a solid four-mile run earlier to get my head in the right place for the day ahead. I’m on the bus for my long commute into the office, and after a brief prayer and meditation session, I’ve moved on to some spiritual reading. Currently, I’m captivated by the lively, beautiful prose of Mirabai Starr in her book The God of Love. Here’s a passage:

This God of mine is not mere emptiness. It is imbued with the energy of love…I have written this love on the doorposts of my heart. I arise with its song on my lips, and I fall asleep with its fingers on my eyelids. I teach this love to my children—which is everyone I meet—and I drop love letters to my God everywhere I go.

Overall, I’m feeling pretty darn good—and not just from the soul-stirring reading, my meditating and my run. I feel good because I know it’s Friday and tonight I’m going to be drinking a few fine ales. Specifically I’ll start with a quart bottle of Lost Abbey Inferno Ale, and move on to a tasty Saison and possibly a hopped-up IPA or two.

Welcome to the two sides of me, health enthusiast and spiritual seeker by day, craft beer quaffer by (weekend) night.

I suppose when it comes down to it, all the activities I’ve described above offer a form of intoxication. Running gets my endorphins going, mellowing me out with the famous “runner’s high.” The meditation and centering prayer I practice allow me to “rest in God” and give me a warm internal glow that can last for hours, sometimes all day.

Yet, even with these two activities that both calm me and help connect me with the world, it would feel like a two-legged stool if I couldn’t drink beer a few days a week. It’s as if the running and spiritual endeavors soothe certain parts of my brain, and the beer satisfies another. Plus, I really like the taste of a good beer. And yes, I like the buzz.

I’m heartened to know that there’s a long tradition of monks of various spiritual traditions making beer and I’m sure more than a few indulge in it as well. In Belgium alone there are six Trappist monasteries that produce and market their own brands of beer, the best known is Chimay. There are also many non-Trappist monasteries across Europe making what’s called “Abbey Beer” and most of these brews pack a wallop.

The most famous Trappist monk of our time, the revered spiritual writer Thomas Merton, also had a fondness for beer. This description of him by poet and longtime friend Ron Seitz brings a smile to my face: “[Merton] was a guy with big baggy pants, needed a shave, laughed too much, drank too much beer, just an ordinary guy.” Merton himself once wrote:

“I drink beer whenever I can get my hands on any. I love beer, and by that very fact, the world.” ~ Thomas Merton

This year in California, the monks at the Abbey of New Clairvaux in Vina joined forces with the brewer Sierra Nevada to help raise funds to restore one of its monasteries. Together, they’ve put out a couple of delicious craft beers under the Oliva Abbey name. (The Abbey also produces and sells its own wine.)

There’s a good vibe coming from the Abbey of New Clairvaux’s Web site, where visitors are welcomed “to enjoy the peace and serenity of our sacred space. We encourage you to be still and listen to the voice of God in you.” The Abbey also offers weekend and weekly retreats, where it sounds like you do pretty much nothing, just roam the grounds and “listen.” In their words: “You are invited to a deep inner quiet and a profound active attention to God’s presence and voice.”

And to me that sounds totally cool. I have a friend, Mike, who’s interested in going on a spiritual retreat and I’m recommending we go there. I’m not sure if they’ll be serving the Olivia Abbey beer or wine they make, but it’s okay if they don’t. The brewery bar at Sierra Nevada is just down the road, as are a few craft brew pubs. Add in a daily run and to me it sounds like the perfect escape.

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3 responses to “Can you enjoy a good drink and still be spiritual?

  1. Hi Tom, I’m not picking up from your post who you perceive God to be? cheers Graeme

    • Hi Graeme, that’s not a question I deal with directly in this piece–and looking at some of my past posts, something I’ve only touched on indirectly! Certainly worth a longer response via a new post which I will definitely look at putting out in January (have a couple of other topics I’ll be addressing first). In the meantime, I look forward to checking out your blog in a little more depth, it looks very interesting; you are quite prolific! Best wishes, Tom

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