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Spending time with the Beer Garden God

By Brother Damien Price

I love stories.

At Christmas, for as long as I can remember, I have sat under the mango trees in the front garden of my family home in Proserpine with my brothers and family members and broken open story.

While she was alive, my mother Zena would be central in the story telling. We would laugh our way through Christmas eve, Christmas Day and into Boxing Day, joined by the occasional mosquito with the family dogs flopped at our feet.

Those many hours spent under the mango trees were sacred times.

Those gathered broke open story – factual and fictional – and every nuance in-between. The fish got bigger, the road longer and the teenage girlfriend more beautiful as the years went by. We graduated from XXXX Gold to Hahn Light and I remember one Christmas when someone had a glass of wine. They were ‘beer garden times’.

In Australian culture the pub looms large. As a young man, I can remember the pub being characterised by the private bar, the public bar and the beer garden.

Both the private and public bars were exclusive but for very different reasons. The private bar had its dress codes and loud behaviour was not welcome nor were certain racial or other stereotypical groups.

There was a time when the public bar was very male dominated; women were not welcome nor were many minority groups.

But the beer garden was a different story.

The beer garden was relaxed. Families were more welcome, women felt at home and groups could gather and break open story.

We can use this analogy to look at how we approach spirituality. I am saddened when people look for God in only the heighted moments or the overtly religious occasions. When they don’t find God there, they walk away from faith.

So often we look for God in the exclusive “private bar” times and places. We look for a God more at home in a pin-striped suit than under a mango tree.

Too often we look for the thunder clap God or the God of incense, thuribles and choir-boy singing.

Our God can be found and celebrated there too but for most of us our God will be found in the ‘ordinary’ – in the everyday. As Fr Richard Rohr ofm says: “God comes to us disguised as our lives!”

Mine is a Beer Garden God; the God of the story, the God of the ordinary, the God of the little moments, the painful moments, the joy-filled moments, the speechless, awestruck moments, the boring moments – any moment that is love in its thousand faces and equally as many disguises!

I often refer to these beer garden times as the ‘small g’ times – the small ‘God’ times. In the beer garden and with the Beer Garden God, all are welcome regardless of colour or creed.

The beer garden and its God are places of round tables; where there is no first nor last, no top nor bottom, no important less important or more important.

My God comes to the round tables of life and takes off his sandals, takes a towel and washes the dirty, dusty feet of the ordinary in the ordinary moments of life.

And then what does this Beer Garden God do? He shares story and invites story.

So at the tables of life, our God whispers to our hearts: “Your story is sacred!”

At the tables of life, our God whispers to our heart: “I love you – just as you are.”

And our God smiles at those gathered around round tables and laughs with the stories shared and cries with the broken one and sits in silence in the moments of awe or pain.

Don’t go looking for a big God or an angry God.

No – become small, become silent – become aware – and then with eyes wide open and hearts truly open – be surprised at your Beer Garden God in the small and ordinary moments of your sacred life!

Br Damien Price is one of Brisbane’s most popular Catholic educators. He has taught at schools including St Joseph’s College, Gregory Terrace, St Patrick’s College, Shorncliffe and St Laurence’s, South Brisbane. He continues to work with schools across the nation.

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