Brigid’s Lake of Beer

by maggi dawn

St. Brigid's Well

St Brigid of Ireland, the Abbess of Kildare (c. 450-52

St Brigid’s day is a time for purification and the rediscovery of creativity–an interesting juxtaposition in itself, as sometimes it’s in the midst of clearing out the clutter that I find new creative ideas begin to gestate.

Most of Brigid’s miracles had a maternal quality, often involving milk.  But she is also known for the poem attributed to her longing for a lake of beer to share with women, men and God. One should, perhaps, bear in mind that ale, in Brigid’s time, was far weaker than it is today, and that as water was not always safe for drinking ale, for those who could afford it, was the drink of choice. So her prayer is not so much a Dionysian dream, more a vision of safe food and nurture for all. Still, an eternal party without a hangover is a pretty nice image of church.

Jest apart, there is something that strikes home this year in Bridgid’s poem: her wish for a united human family is expressed with the recognition that unity can only be achieved when repentance, peace, charity, mercy and cheerfulness are given and received. She envisions these things as gifts of substance, to be given in physical quantity. Not wafty ideas, theories, or orders from on high, but “things”. Vats of peace, vessels of charity, caves of mercy, and drinkable cheerfulness. The current climate is one of the most socially divided I have ever lived through; finding ways to make peace, love, mercy, repentance and joy both tangible and share-able seems to me the best acct of resistance we can engage in.

I wish I had a great lake of ale for the King of kings,
and the family of heaven to drink it through time eternal.

I wish I had the meats of belief and genuine piety,
the flails of repentance, and the men of heaven in my house.
I would like vats of peace to be at their disposal,
vessels of charity for distribution,
caves of mercy for their company,
and cheerfulness to be in their drinking.

I would want Jesus also to be in their midst,
together with the three Marys of illustrious renown,
and the people of heaven from all parts.
I would like to be a tenant to the Lord,
so if I should suffer distress,
he would confer on me a blessing. Amen.