One of our newest parishioners is a Loreto Sister, Lis Keane, who I have known for many years now; having the joy of working with her when we are both at the Southport parish. Over her many years (No number mentioned) as a nun, Lis has worked as a teacher, pastoral associate, prison chaplain, choir director, and liturgist, all the while using her great talents of realism, compassion, and humour.
Recently she shared the following reflection with me, and it was too good to keep it to myself.
At Christmas, for as long as I can remember, I have sat under the mango trees in the front garden of my family home, enjoying the company of family members and telling stories. While she was alive, my mother would be central in the telling of yarns and anecdotes. We would laugh our way through Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and 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 stories – 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 person, 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 stories. We can use this analogy to look at how we approach spirituality.
I am saddened when people look for God only in heightened moments or overtly religious occasions. They walk away from the faith when they don’t find God there.
So often, we look for God in 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 thunderclap God or the God of incense, thuribles and choir 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 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. All are welcome in the beer garden and with the Beer Garden God, 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, 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 stories and invites stories.
So, at the tables of life, our God whispers to our hearts: ‘I love you – just as you are. ‘And our God smiles at those gathered around round tables, laughs at the stories shared and cries with the broken one, and sits in silence in 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!