Published first by Catapult Magazine.
My husband is a master brewer. For 14 years he has honed the art and science of brewing craft beers that we share with neighbors and friends. When we married, I didn’t particularly like beer. I’m still not crazy about it, but I like brewing with Andrew. And I like learning the processes involved with combining common elements such as water, grains, hops and yeast so they transform into something new and amazing.
When Andrew and I brew, I like imagining that God called order from chaos. Brewing beer is a little like that. God spoke, and creation unfolded — cosmos, light, lapping waters… “It is good.” I know that if Andrew and I spoke to water, grains, hops and yeast, they would not transform into beer; definitely it would not be good! Recalling that God in the flesh once turned water into wine, we have a healthy perspective on our human limitations. For this reason, we study, plan, shop for quality ingredients and chart a meticulous six-to-seven hour schedule (depending on the type of beer). During the following months of fermentation, we go to exceptional lengths to make sure the right yeasts have the best possible environment for doing their job.
“Cleanliness is the most important part,” Andrew explains to friends who frequently take part in the brew. “Wild yeasts are the enemy.” It’s essential, every step of the way, to wash and sanitize equipment so microscopic impurities do not wreck the batch. All it takes is one unwashed measuring cup, or an un-sanitized edge of a pitcher, and wild yeasts may spell disaster for the entire brew. Purity makes or breaks the outcome; one never hopes to waste time, energy and resources on a batch that fails.
When we brew, I am reminded that we are God’s masterpieces made to do good works. God actually made the first human of soil and the second of a rib; together we embody God’s creativity and breath. We are like carvings in wood or clay or marble. We step nearer each other when we reflect our Creator together.
Brewing reminds me that we need to work together. When something goes wrong, my husband calls for me. It usually goes something like, “Hey, helper!” And I run to his side laughing because we both know that I write and speak on how the ancient Hebrew definition of helper differs from commonly negative thinking about it.
“You know,” I like to say while tending the mash pot, “When in dire straits, the Israelites called upon God as a helper —19 out of 21 times.” My husband and I know the necessity of asking each other for help, and I’m grateful that he doesn’t shy away from it.
Andrew and I do not forget losing an entire day’s work, and a whole brew, because a valve happened to break when I ran a quick errand. Although he’s strong, Andrew wasn’t able to move the heavy boiling cauldron alone; even if he had been strong enough, the size of the object would have required four arms. And the repair would have necessitated two sets of hands. Losing that batch still reminds us of the impossibility of completing a brew without combining each other’s strengths.
When things go wrong, it’s easy to get upset. We have both at times have been frustrated with the other. In truth, neither of us enjoys the dirty work — cleaning sticky pots and sanitizing little pieces of equipment. It’s easy to look the other way and hope the other will do the messy jobs. Yet we know that timing can make or break the process. If we stopped to argue, a boiling pot might elevate too much in temperature, or we might miss an essential gravity reading. It makes better sense to stay focused on the desired outcome — completing the processes in the present as we aim for a good beer in the future. It also makes sense to ask the Spirit to help us be more like Jesus as we work together. Like brewing, marriage requires a dance of give and take in the present while keeping focused on the bigger picture.
At the end of the day — whether the brew has succeeded or failed — we have stepped into the realm of creativity and worship. Hopefully we have enjoyed the privilege of creating, and thanked God for it. Hopefully we have found kind, merciful and sacrificial ways of working together. Hopefully we have been humble enough to ask for help, and generous enough to give it. Hopefully we have invited friends and neighbors to join the brewing process as we look forward to sipping a fine cup of beer together in the future. Hopefully we have come nearer to each other as we have come nearer to God.