Art of Craft ~ brews and reviews
By Greg Richardson

Art of CraftT. S. Eliot begins The Waste Land by describing April.

April is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

We often experience April as cruel because it may be the most ironic month of the year.

April begins with a day dedicated to foolishness. The roots of April Fools’ Day and April foolishness are not known with certainty. Some scholars attribute the idea of April Fools’ Day to English author Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Chaucer is the same writer who connected Valentine’s Day with romantic love.

One English source from 1769 traces the idea of April Fools’ Day to the Bible and the story of Noah and releasing a dove from the ark after the Flood. 

The irony of April often arises from its placement as a month of transition for winter to spring. Though spring begins in March, it is typical for April to be the month when spring really sinks its roots and begins growing.

New life makes itself evident by sprouting out of the muddy ground which has been dormant all winter. In many places April showers irrigate the soil so it will produce flowers in May.

During April the darkness and cold of winter give way to the signs of the new life of spring.

April’s transitional threshold from winter to spring is mirrored in the liturgical passage from Lent into Easter. The season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and continues to Easter Sunday. The dates of Ash Wednesday and Easter, and Lent, vary from year to year. Many people begin April struggling to discipline themselves with a Lent practice they have chosen.

Lent is not only about giving things up. It is a season about being honest with ourselves, with other people, with spiritual life.  During Lent, people take an honest, insightful look at who we really are. Lent is about reflecting on what we hold onto which holds us back from becoming our truest selves. We look ourselves in the eye and recognize what we do not truly need.

Lent is a time to be intimately personal in public.

Some people decide to give something up for Lent while others focus on starting a new practice. People might choose to set aside alcohol or chocolate, caffeine or nicotine which they believe holds them back. Other people follow a schedule of physical exercise or mindfulness, writing or other creativity each day during Lent.

Lent is, in some ways, a season of spiritual life pushing new life up from dormant land.

On Easter, which is often in April, the sacrifices and disciplines of Lent are transformed into joyful celebration of new life.

It is not unusual for people to decide to stop drinking alcohol, including beer, during Lent, which is another ironic aspect of April.

I understand people can experience craft beer as something which distracts them from deeper spiritual life. That distraction is not something I experience.

My appreciation for craft beer and brewing is more in line with how monasteries and monastic orders relate to beer. Monasteries which brew beer see it as a central part of their hospitality for others. Many monks enjoy beer and enjoy sharing it with people who visit them.

The first Lent beer was brewed by Paulaner monks at Cloister Neudeck ob der Au in Munich. They arrived in Munich from Italy in 1627 and soon began brewing beer for their own consumption. The Paulaners were concerned, however, about whether a strong brew with such delightful qualities might be too much of an indulgence during Lent.

They decided to ask the Vatican for a special dispensation to ensure that they could continue to brew and drink it with a clear conscience. The monks dispatched a cask of their Lent beer to Rome for the Pope to try it for himself.

It may have been because the monks’ cask was tossed and turned on the journey across the Alps and heated for several weeks in the Italian sun, so it turned sour and undrinkable. Or it could have been because the Pope and the Cardinals in Rome were more accustomed to the subtle taste of wine than the robust favors of strong beer. Whatever the reason, when the cardinals tasted the much-praised brew from Munich they found it unpalatable.

The Vatican decided the brew tasted so vile it was probably beneficial for the souls of the Munich monks to make and drink as much of it as they could. The bitter beer was a testament to the piety of monks who were willing to drink it during Lent. The Pope, with great admiration, blessed the brewing of this new Lent beer style.

Celebrate the irony of April the month. It is a month which begins in foolishness while encompassing the cold winds of winter and warm breezes of spring, the sacrifices of Lent and the joy of new life in Easter.

Remember the Paulaner monks who continue to brew their pious beer today. Raise a glass or two to their hospitality and creativity.

Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor in Pasadena, California. He is passionate about craft brewing, listening, and monks and monastic life. Greg is a recovering attorney. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com and he is on Twitter @StrategicMonk. You can email Greg at StrategicMonk@gmail.com, and he writes a blog for the Contemplative channel on http://www.patheos.com.

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