Monday, August 25, 2014

St. Brigid's Hope for the World, or: A Massive Lake of Beer

I just came back from chaperoning an Archdiocesan-run camp for Grade 7s who had just been confirmed: Searching in the Spirit. The yearly camp is always a great time, with the activities, prayers, workshops, and testimonies of each of the five days dedicated to a specific theme: We are Sacred, We Are Witnesses, We Are Forgiven, We Are Servants, and We Are One Body. But I noticed that a bigger theme that tied all five themes together was the theme of Christian Hope, a hope that is not just some kind of wishful thinking with no basis in reality, but a hope that reaches to the innermost depths of who we are as human beings. Some will say that human persons, being creatures with intellect and will, are truth-seekers. Others will say that we are only truth-seekers because we are more fundamentally lovers. I think a part of these truths is the fact that human persons are also Hopers.

In his encyclical Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict XVI speaks of Christian Hope being a "trustworthy [virtue by] which we can face our present: the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey" (1). Shortly after, the pope refers to Ephesians 2:12, in which St. Paul says that before their encounter with Christ, the people in Ephesus were "without hope and without God in the world" (2), and yet by the Incarnation and the Resurrection, man was given a new life. "To come to know God - the true God - is to receive Hope" (3), and this Hope changes everything. "The One who has hope lives differently" (2). The second person of the Trinity taking flesh is what fully revealed man to man himself (Gaudium et Spes 22) and has allowed truth, love, and hope to be transformed into all that they were meant to be.

The Christian goal is heaven, which entails an eternal communion and embrace with God. Undoubtedly, this goal is "great enough to justify the effort of the journey." By our Faith, we are given the assured Hope that our destined future is not dark, but on the contrary is unbelievably bright. And this is why, at Searching in the Spirit, the theme of Hope jumped out at me as something tying all the themes together. Because we all at some point have given in to sin and have forgotten our sacredness as children of God. Because we have all failed at witnessing to what is true, good, and beautiful. Because sometimes we think we are so messed up that we cannot be forgiven, either by God or by our friends and family. Because we have all been selfish and have passed on helping others around us. Because sometimes we are so proud and individualistic, that we fragment the unity we have from and in the Church. But Hope is what keeps us going, and because of Hope and because of what Hope assures us - that is, Heaven - we trek on.

Here's the thing though. I don't think we spend enough time talking or thinking about Heaven. I mean, we mention it. We hear about it. But most of the time it is in the abstract, and it is conveyed as having absolutely nothing to do with the current world we live in. We don't actually spend time THINKING about Heaven, reflecting on it, meditating and pondering about what heaven could actually be like, how blissful it will be, and how unfathomably it will fulfill the desires of our heart. It is speculation, yes, but a speculation that is grounded in truth and hope. If we spent just five minutes a day resting explicitly in the hope of heaven, I think all Christians would be more joy-filled and would find it easier to live out the above five themes. The Incarnation opened our eyes to how much meaning the world has in itself, and how much meaning it is intrinsically open towards, but it should also open our eyes towards that which this meaningful world is pointing.

At Searching in the Spirit, I was chatting to Fr. Bryan Duggan from the Vocations Office, about what the Eschaton could be like, and we came to the topic of whether or not we will be eating in Heaven. He mentioned that St. Thomas Aquinas wrote of how hunger is an imperfection, so while we may be able to eat in Heaven, it would never be because we would be hungry (remember, Jesus also ate with His apostles after His Resurrection. On a related note, if there are walls in heaven, I think we'll also be able to walk through them). We would eat for the pure pleasure of eating, and yet would never eat so much that we would be gluttonous, nor would we ever want to eat so much that it would come to that. We have absolutely no idea what the Eschaton will actually be like (or even what Heaven right now is actually like), but I think this is a healthy kind of speculation. It gives us a glimpse into what Heaven may be like, while keeping the mystery that it will also be a transcendence from our current plane of existence. We may be able to eat, but that eating will be unlike any kind of eating we have ever done. (The kind of food we may hypothetically eat will also be unlike anything we've ever eaten. So those 6 amazing pieces of Nigiri sushi that cost $20 at a celebratory family dinner the other night would be comparable to cardboard).

It's this kind of hopeful "wondering and awing" that I find exciting. Because one thing is clear: whatever the eschaton entails, it will not be a straight negation of creation. Yes, man has a special role, place, and destiny in God's divine plan, but in fact all of creation has been "groaning in labour pains...." (Romans 8:22) waiting for Christ to fulfill it. One of God's first instructions to Adam and Eve was to till the garden and to keep it. If the rest of nature is indeed part of what makes man genuinely happy, then in the eschaton, it will be raised up and transformed, not done away with. Grace does not destroy nature. Heaven will be unimaginably imaginable.

All of that was a very long roundabout way to get to the title of this blog post. As I said, Fr. Bryan and I were talking about the possibility of eating in heaven. Inevitably, it led to a similar discussion about drinking. I recently came across a song by songwriter musician Kevin Heider titled "St. Brigid's Fire." The song is inspired by the story that St. Brigid (of Ireland) had a vision of heaven being a gigantic lake of beer in which the saints would be diving, and from which they would be drinking. Great visual. Again, Fr. Bryan and I pondered about how great that would be: we would have all the good effects of the alcohol, but with none of the ill effects, nor would we want to drink any amount that would spill over into what would be gluttony. And all Asians would be able to drink from the lake without getting that famous glow (that a lot of Asians lack the enzyme that breaks down alcohol HAS to be an imperfection, right?) If beer is in heaven, it will be so much more beautiful than it is now. Cue lyrics:

"It's the First of February
and we all have gathered here
To drink up for King and Conscience
From this glorious lake of beer."

The chorus of the song addresses St. Brigid herself. She appears to be some kind of bartender, probably alongside St. Patrick (although trying to bartend a lake seems like a crazy task):

"They say the first shall be the last
So Sister Brigid fill my glass
I'll be the first to drink and the last to die
Ohh, but I'll have glory at my side!"

As you can guess, the song is a bit tongue-in-cheek. But given all that I've written so far, the song is actually one of the most hopeful songs I've heard in a very, very long time. Much more so than any on-the-nose praise and worship song, that's for sure. The rhythm and chord progression of the song is itself inspired by the good old tune, "Oh When the Saints Go Marching In," and it actually makes you think about into that which the saints are walking. Every time I get to the end of the song, I find myself with a huge grin on my face, and a real sense of hope, that all that is good and all my desires will be transformed, raised up, and fulfilled if I continue to follow Christ:

"Oh when the Saints go marching in
Oh when the saints go marching in
They will behold a lake of beer
And they all will dive right in."

Go check out the song (and buy the album!) over at Keep on hoping, people. We don't know exactly how that Hope will be fulfilled, but my God, will it be worth it.

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