Both the message that was for the meeting for worship, and the one that was not (which I'm sharing here)had a theme of trusting in Spirit. The image that Liz Opp wrote about recently, of the difference between entering meeting through the door for "Meeting for Worship" and that for the "Meeting for Good Ideas" kept coming back to me, as did the question of how much (or little) we manage to look to the experience of corporate worship--that the Spirit may be working in someone unexpected, across the room from us, and how important it is not to assume that "if I don't do it, it won't get done," when it comes to vocal ministry in a Quaker context.
But it wasn't until last night, as I heard my friend Beth telling the assembled families at her Lammas potluck the story of John Barleycorn that I realized that the message that had not been for the meeting was a Lammas message. It's about the hidden workings of Spirit--but not just about that in the case of vocal ministry.
As I had been sitting in worship, my mind on ministry, the image of my fermenter kept rising in my mind, each time with real life in it. (I find that messages often begin as images for me.)
I'm a home brewer--a practice I began for the sake of making libations that were a bit more sacred than if I'd merely run off to the store and bought myself a commercially distributed bottle of beer or wine for use in circle. And, of course, the life cycle of grain is part of the sacred rhythms of the Pagan wheel of the year; brewing beer lets me participate in that wheel about as much as a city-dweller can.
Brewing beer, for the uninitiated, is a bit like making tea, at least to start. You soak a bunch of roasted grains long enough to loosen up the sugars in them, then "sparge" them with lots and lots of hot water poured through them, like boiling water through tea. Add hops for a brief boil at the end of the process, and then cool the whole thing down to a temperature low enough not to scald and kill off the magic ingredient: the yeast.
The recent dark and fragrant brew, now called the "wort" is carefully poured out into a fermenter: a santized container which will get closed up tight to shield the developing beer from wild yeasts and bacteria that might spoil the beer. The fermenter is topped off with a vapor lock that allows gasses to escape, but keeps out microorganisms--it's usually a kind of complicated-looking plastic u-tube, with water in the bottom of the bend. As gasses escape the fermenter, they bubble up through the water, making a pleasant (to a brewer, at least) blorbling sound.
Now, the tricky bit about brewing beer is that so many things can, in theory, go wrong. The yeast, for instance, may be too old to germinate in the wort, or the wort perhaps was still too hot when you pitched in the yeast. Or, if you leave the wort uncovered our outside the fermenter too long, it might become invaded by unhelpful microorganisms, that will turn the brew into expensive vinegar instead of tasty porter, stout, or ale. And, finally, depending on how hot or cold the ambient temperature is, you can get a "stuck" fermentation, in which the yeast does not flourish and do its thing, turning wort into beer. If a fermentation is stuck long enough, wild yeasts and microorganisms can, in theory, out-compete the brewer's yeast, and produce nasty off-flavors in the beer.
So the time between pitching the yeast and sealing up the fermenter, and the first welcome blorbles of escaping CO2 from the fermenting wort is a nervous time.
This, it came to me, is like our silent waiting worship in Quaker meeting.
It is hard to trust that something unseen, and initially so small, whether yeast or Spirit, can accomplish as large and complex a task as we ask of it. When brewing beer, it's hard to fight the temptation to keep peeking under the lid of the fermenter, especially if time is passing and there are, as yet, no cheerful noises coming from it. And, in a collected meeting for worship, it's hard to trust that somewhere in this meeting, spirit is working invisibly on someone, becoming ready to transform a very ordinary group of men and women into a gathered experience of Spirit.
But it is. We've got to trust in that invisible essence and wait. No peeking--no "helping" Spirit along with intellectualized "good idea" messages of our own. And we've got to trust that, even if it takes a while to get started, start it will.
I once brewed the most astonishing maple syrup stout. But, though I'd brewed early in the day, there was no cheerful noise coming from that fermenter by bedtime, nor when I awoke, anxiously, in the night. Maple syrup is expensive! What a disaster to have such a beer go wrong! It was very hard to wait, and very hard to sleep.
When I got up the next morning, I still couldn't hear that distinctive blorbling, but when I went out to the kitchen, I discovered why: sometime in the night, the fermentation had kicked in with such a vengeance that it had simply blown the lid right off my fermenter! A gooey, slurpy mess of sweet brown foam had erupted from beneath the lid, frothed down it's sides, and even spattered the walls. It was everywhere! (I have since learned to leave a little extra shoulder room--air space--in the fermenter when I brew that particular beer. Saves on the need to repaint the walls...)
I stuck the lid back on, cleaned up as best as I could, and settled in contentedly to listen to the blurb...blurb...blurble of happy yeast making happy beer. That particular beer went on to become locally famous--maybe the best I ever brewed.
Christians speak of the leaven in the loaf, and I've nothing against a good loaf, either. But there's something so completely magical, about the transformation of grain and water into a good, dark glass of homebrew. We wait, we trust, and that tiny, invisible presence of yeast makes miracles. It works in beer. It works with patient waiting in Quaker worship. Perhaps it works within the heart of every listening human. (Earth + Spirit + Trusting Patience = Miracle of Life Renewed?)
So, whether you take yours as stout, ale or pils, as barley-beer or bread, here's to Little Sir John, the life that's in the earth...and to the strong and secret power of the yeast, the Spirit bursting forth in the dark.
Lammas Blessings, all.
Image of glass fermenter courtesy of Wikipedia entry.
Image of O'Dell Imperial Stout courtesy of Brew Cast Net.
Used under Creative Commons license 2.5.