(This blog post was published in Fall 2008, The Banner Magazine)
There is a legend that says the Chinese Emperor Shen Nung, the Divine Cultivator, discovered tea accidentally when he was boiling water under the shade of a wild tea tree. A few of the leaves dropped into his pot, tinting the water and he drank the resulting infusion. Immediately, he was overwhelmed with a sense of well-being. If only it were that easy.
On Sunday, our pastor prayed for a person facing a difficult doctor’s appointment. In his prayer he said, “Lord, that is an appointment that none of us would want to be called to, but it’s an appointment You may call us to.” At that moment in prayer, I had an appointment with Lectio Divina.
Lectio Divina is a very ancient art practiced by Christians. It is a slow, contemplative praying of the Scriptures which enables the Bible, the Word of God, to become a means of union with God – not unlike brewing tea. The same excerpt from scripture steeps several times in the vessel of the heart. The Holy Spirit then draws forth the flavor of one particular word or phrase to speak directly into the life of an individual. Its true intent is to cultivate the ability to drink deeply of the cup of Christ and to hear “with the ear of our hearts.” On Sunday morning, I was surprised to find that I am not totally deaf.
You see, there has been something collecting in my heart over the past few months. The first bits settled when my sister’s cancer returned. Further deposits were made with each new challenge – a blood transfusion here, a debilitating fever there – a heap of dried matter littering the chambers. My own set of health issues compounded the effect and finally, the news of our precious 8-year-old niece’s terminal illness threatened to stop it up for good.
Yet something happened that morning. Pure, hot truth poured into me, the words “…it’s an appointment You may call us to” steeping the bits slowly. That which had collected in the vessel of my heart, the bitter and potentially lethal remnants, began to infuse the grace I was experiencing with a particular quality. God was brewing a tea with the tender leafs of my suffering and the sufferings of those around me. Would I trust Him with it?
A traditional tea master is implicitly trusted with the fine art of nurturing a tea plant. This is quite an involved task especially because all tea comes from one kind of plant.* A master knows when to pluck and when to wither. A master knows that differences in climate, soil, temperature and moisture will yield very different, yet equally significant teas. Without the Master, my own precious harvest threatens to become dry dust or an over-steeped sludge served up in the cup of a broken world. Or maybe even worse, a saccharin-laden mixture that covers up the honest and full flavor of the cup that is mine.
Jesus had a cup placed before Him. He never asked for a different cup – only that He would not have to drink the dregs. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what You will.” Because of His trust in the Tea Master, we are able to experience the full flavor of grace.
We have a new teahouse in Traverse City. It is called Serenity and is located on Front Street across from the State Theater. You can choose to sit cross-legged in the sunlit windowsill, slowly sipping away at an iced drink while watching the activity on Front Street (this is the favored perch of the teen-aged clientele). Or you may choose to curl up on a comfy sofa with a steaming cup while reading a book on the history of tea making. The folks at Serenity know that there are as many ways of appreciating tea as there are cultures to appreciate it.
I’m learning to appreciate tea. I watch the light refracting through the infused water and think of the very sunlight that withered the leaf. I remind myself to breath in the aroma that holds all knowledge of its origin. I let my tongue roll over the flavor, tasting each nuance of the soil it was nurtured in. I let the warmth pour through me. I am learning to appreciate that the hardships endured and the tender nurturing received lend character and, in the hands of the Master, are one in the same.
Wars have been fought over tea. Ceremonies celebrate it. So precious was the secret of tea in China that England sent spies into the country to attempt to discover the secret of their process. The truth is there is still a war being fought over tea. It wants to do away with the ceremony and steal the secret. It does not want us to know how precious we are to the Tea Master and that every day He is calling us to an appointment…
“Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it.”
What is your cup of tea?
*( All true tea comes from the same type of plant, an Asian evergreen known as Camellia sinensis. Herbals are not technically teas, but Tisanes.)