I got into brewing beer a few years back. It’s a fun process and the results are almost always drinkable. We’re fortunate to have a great homebrew store in town with very knowledgeable staff. I often talk to them about different ingredients and techniques. Once, I asked one of these guys about malting barley myself, a process that involves sprouting the raw grain and then roasting it. He said it was pretty complicated and not worth the time. “They’ve really got the process down at the malting facilities. It wouldn’t be efficient to do it yourself,” he told me.
This struck me as very odd coming from an employee at a homebrew shop. This guy’s job depends on a lot of folks thinking efficiency really isn’t that great. People brew for a lot of reasons. For me, it’s enjoyable; I love the smell of hops and grain on the stove, I like to experiment with flavors, I like to learn more about beer, knowing about the process heightens my enjoyment of the beverage, and it maybe saves me a little bit of money. And other people have other reasons for brewing. But no one brews beer because it’s efficient. Spending hours by the stove, waiting for weeks, bottling, waiting for even more weeks; clearly this is completely inefficient if you just want a beer. Efficiency would be driving down to the gas station, buying beer, and driving home.
For our family, much of what we do is decidedly inefficient. Keeping chickens, growing a garden, even homeschooling; none of this is efficient. But we still choose to do these things. Some of our reasons the world can understand, cost, quality, etc. But there’s more to it than that. There are “factors” that don’t quite fit into a modern, industrial way of thinking.
Inefficiency is also a curious mark of our faith. During a men’s meeting I attended at our church, we started talking about the Catholic practice of petitioning saints, especially in the distinctly Catholic and noticeably repetitive prayer of the rosary. One man, playing devil’s advocate, pointed out how inefficient this is. “Why not just cut out the middleman? Why pray to Jesus AND Mary AND some other saint? Why ask any saint to pray for you when you can just do it yourself?” Some of the other men quickly countered the argument with explanations about how Jesus listens to his Holy Mother as he did at the wedding feast at Cana (John 2:1-12), the prayers of the saints constantly surround God’s throne (Revelation 8:5), and our asking the saints to pray for us is similar to asking living friends to do the same. But one of the younger guys cut to the heart of the other man’s argument, saying, “But our God is not a God of efficiency but a God of beauty.”
There’s nothing inherently wrong with efficiency, of course. For many of the tasks I perform, I simply chose the most efficient way of doing them. But efficiency is not a Christian virtue, despite what Adam Smith may think. Scripture does tell us the Lord is swift (Malachi 3:5, Isaiah 19:1) but it more often describes his ways as unsearchable and unfathomable (Romans 11:33, Job 9:10, Proverbs 25:3). These ways often seem slow which is why the Psalmist asks over and over again, “How long, O LORD, how long?!” Today, it’s still tempting to ask that question, especially as we’ve become more and more entrenched in an industrial way of thinking which values efficiency and speed so highly. But, St. Peter tells us, “The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God may seem inefficient to us but, in his Glory and patience and beauty, He is working all things for the Good of those who love him in a great cosmic drama of redemption.
And, so, we join our prayers to this great work, no matter how slow or inefficient it may seem. We ask our friends the saints to pray for us, rejoicing in the communal and ancient nature of our faith. We pray the rosary, repeating the words given us by our Savior Jesus, the archangel Gabriel, and our Holy Mother Mary. We offer up decades of this wonderfully inefficient but incredibly beautiful prayer.
I still haven’t gotten around to malting and roasting my own grain. And I’m still getting the hang of the Rosary. It may take a few thousand more Hail Marys. But, as I go, I’m learning to love the prayer -and Jesus- more. How beautifully inefficient!