The Spirituality of Drinking (Chinese) Tea

Today’s post which seems very appropriate for me when I am heading off for a few relaxing days when I know I will be drinking lots of tea, is written by Andrew Wade He and his family have recently returned from several years working in Hong Kong where Andy worked as a Mennonite pastor.   At least that is what he says though I suspect he spent a lot of his time drinking tea.

Drinking Chinese tea is an art. It’s also a form of hospitality. It is much more than just boiling water and plopping in a bag of jasmine tea. The water needs to be just the right temperature. The teapot, small and made of clay, should only be used with one kind of tea and never washed, only rinsed. The flavor of the tea soaks into the pores of the teapot and enhances flavor over time.

When brewing tea, the teapot is partially filled with loose leaves, which are then rinsed with near boiling water. The teapot is again filled with hot water and the leaves allowed to steep for just the right amount of time. When properly brewed, 5-7 pots of tea can be made from the same leaves, each batch with the same clarity and taste as the original. As pot after pot is poured, the leaves lose some of their flavor; so each new brew requires a bit more steeping time than the last. Tiny cups are sipped while conversation unfolds, revealing its own intensity and flavor.

As I pondered this art, I reflected on our lives as followers of Jesus. Like teapots, we’re each unique, fragile vessels created to contain one essence, that of our Creator. Over time the flavor of God intensifies in our lives as the Spirit seeps into our pores and transforms our nature, making us more like the Creator in whose image we are formed. Like the tea leaves, we are also unique, each variety requiring a different processing and brewing technique that results in the perfect cup of tea.

When we first encounter the Risen Christ, a cleansing is in order. Like leaves rolled tightly into little balls and dried by the edge of the road, we’ve collected dust, dirt, and contaminants that alter our flavor. We are washed, not with lukewarm water or water heated in a microwave, but water heated to a boil over fire. As Jesus’ life is poured out on the cross, his life, love, and sacrifice infuse our lives, cleansing us of the filth that clings so closely in every wrinkle and crevice of our withered lives. Like the tightly rolled leaves, we expand, allowing God’s Spirit to reach more and more of our being. Rinsed in Christ, we are now ready to be used by God.

When another type of tea is used in the pot, the flavor is corrupted. So it is with our lives, when we permit the flavor of God to mix with greed, nationalism, lust, and a whole host of other gods. When this happens the tea poured out tastes “off”. Something is wrong. The tea is called by the same name and even tastes similar, but the quality is distorted, reflecting something other than the intended brew.

Like each new cup, there is a consistency to God’s desire for us as well. Just as the tea leaves change with every pot, so our lives change as we grow in Christ. The same water fills the pot but each batch requires its own unique timing. We often get into religious ruts by assuming the way things have been done is the way they always should be done. But we fail to see that God’s been working in and around us, transforming God’s creation. Like finely brewed tea, the flavor and consistency of God hasn’t changed, we have.  With each filling of our lives with the sacrificial love of Jesus, God’s “timing”, that variable which is the intersection of created with Creator, is adjusted.

Like tea, there is also a kind of faith that’s bagged and ready, even “instant”, promising the true taste of God without any real substance. These pre-packaged teas are quick and easy but something is seriously lacking – rushing toward the end, they’ve left out all the elements in-between that truly make tea what it is. Finely brewed tea involves patience as you sit together with friends conversing while the water is boiled. It involves allowing the leaves to be properly cleansed and to expand. It involves the act of service and attention as the brewer engages both the guests and the tea-making process. Like true faith, the art of drinking tea involves everything around us and is something to be lived and savored, not rushed.

As we take time with God and in community our true flavor is revealed. Following in the path of our Lord, we find ourselves poured out into tiny cups all over the world — in fellowship, witness, service. When attention is paid to the brewing process, the clarity and consistency of each cup looks and tastes like Jesus, revealing through our fragile vessels and the content of our character the transforming love of God for all creation.

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Networking as a Spiritual Practice

I have been a little slow with posting today because Tom and I are on the road again.  We are heading for a few days off in British Columbia with some friends but I wanted to make sure that I posted the last of the articles I have received for the What is a Spiritual Practice Series before I go off line for a feew days.

Today’s article is from Steve Knight who describ3s himself as a kingdom journalist. He is passionate about telling stories and “describing the mighty works of God” (Acts 2:11)  He blogs at knightopia.com Tomorrow I will post one from Andy Wade who has recently returned from several years in Hong Kong.

At some point over the past 10 years, I began telling friends (and anyone else who would listen) that “networking” was one of my “spiritual gifts.” I realized, saying this, that networking was not one of the traditional gifts in a strictly biblical sense. But I found the joy and satisfaction I got from connecting personally with other people, as well as the thrill of connecting like-minded people to each other and people to things (e.g., job opportunities, good information, etc.), was really a lot like the serenity and fulfillment one might receive from a healthy, life-giving spiritual practice.  Read the entire article

Mothering as a Spiritual Practice

Another beautiful day in Seattle and Tom and I are getting ready for a few days vacation up on Mayne Island, one of the Canadian gulf islands.  The weather is supposed to be good and I am really looking forward to a few days off – hoping that the blackberries and apples are ready like they were last year and that I can get my fill of apple and blackberry cobbler (Yes I do enjoy my food and I wish someone would do a post on Eating as Spiritual Practice – so much of our faith revolves around the dining room table

Today’s post in the What is a Spiritual Practice series comes from Tara Malouf a professional photographer who has gifted us with beautiful photos from both the garden seminars and our recent Celtic retreat.  Tara blogs at Storyformed She is currently working on a calendar for the 2009 – 2010 liturgical year which she calls the Story – Formed calendar.  Her last year’s calendar was one of the most beautiful liturgical calendars I have seen so I am really looking forward to this year’s

Ricci Kilmer and Gabriel at Celtic Retreat - photo by Tara Malouf

Ricci Kilmer and Gabriel at Celtic Retreat - photo by Tara Malouf

It dawned on me this morning that my mothering is a spiritual practice!! Though much of what I do on a daily basis is mundane, tedious and repetitive (and will never get its own reality TV show), everyday those repetitive actions lead me into a deepening of my walk with God.

As I watch my children from a distance, I smile at who they are becoming and am amazed at their creativity and abilities. And so I enter into the delight of a Parent Whose eyes sparkle at the very sight of His children.  Read the entire article

The Eight Weirdest Ways to Go Green

I just could not resist this article in Alternet and thought that even if you are not interested in green living that you might enjoy it.

From the solar-powered bikini that can charge your iPod to the benefits of eating free range snails, here’s few things you may not have thought of yet.  Read the article

Colouring as a Spiritual Practice

Greets from a cool and overcast Seattle.  My beans are growing, tomatoes ripening and squash proliferating.  Last night I was furiously processing some of the produce before Tom and I head out of town tomorrow afternoon for a few days – made 2 Hunza pies and a cheesy tomato bake to take with us.  Dried my first jarful of cherry tomatoes too.  Keep watching the plants anxiously hoping they will be as prolific as last year.  Used squash, tomatoes, chard, garlic and herbs from the garden.  We are heading into Canada so cannot take fresh produce but the pies looked so good I was tempted to eat them immediately but then Tom made his version of BLTs for dinner and I changed my mind.. delicious.

The Book of Kells

The Book of Kells

Today’s post in the What is a Spiritual Practice Series is by Danielle Grubb Shroyer.  Danielle is the pastor of Journey Church in Dallas.  She is the author of The Boundary-Breaking God:  An Unfolding Story of Hope and Promise (Jossey-Bass, 2009) and speaks often on issues of theology, church leadership and emerging communities of faith. She blogs at danielleshroyer.com You might also like to check out this post on her blog Hermeneutics as Art gives another thoughtful perspective on a different aspect of art and faith.

I love to color.  I realize this is convenient when I have two young children who still find it an enjoyable activity while many of you probably cannot remember the last time you picked up a seafoam green Crayola.  But coloring for me isn’t just a mom activity.  I have always found something wonderfully calming about sprawling on the floor with a brand new box of crayons.  The somewhat repetitive motion of coloring back and forth and that swoosh-swoosh-swoosh sound the crayons make on the paper does wonders to clear my head and help me regain my focus.  I remember specifically one instance in college when I was overly stressed about a Hebrew midterm I had coming up.  My roommates came home and found me in the living room armed with cookies and a coloring book and wondered if perhaps I had lost my mind.  Actually, I was trying to find it.  And I dare say it worked.  It gave me a break from the chatter in my own head, the incessant onslaught of thoughts and ideas.  Coloring feels, for me, very much like the beginning of a yoga session when you begin to focus on your breathing instead of your task list.  And wondrously, the intentional narrowing of focus gives freedom again for your mind to return to its work with clarity and renewed purpose.

You can imagine I was thrilled to discover one day while roaming Barnes and Noble a wonderful little book called <em>Praying In Color</em>, where author Sybil MacBeth describes her practice of coloring as a form of prayer.  For someone whose wordiness and word-centeredness often dominates, the idea of allowing colors and shapes (and perhaps, the occasional word or name) to do the praying for me was a welcome balance.  And it helped me realize that all those times I set my bickering children down in front of a jumbo coloring page and smiled as I watched their frustrations melt away, the times when my own stress began creeping up my shoulders and I fought back with aquamarine crayon in hand, these were acts of spiritual discipline.  They were ways of redirecting our hearts and minds toward a more peaceful place.

Recently I went on a weekend prayer retreat and the spiritual director laid out pages of mandalas and boxes of colored pencils for us to use during our down times.  She said the practice of coloring these symmetrical patterns has been used for thousands of years as a way of helping people organize their thoughts, calm their minds and create a sense of peace.  The colors we choose to use also make us aware of how we are feeling, and perhaps more capable of doing something productive about it.  I had not colored with mandalas before, and I have to say they did provide a very prayerful, meditative time.  But if you happen to be in a pinch, your daughter’s Strawberry Shortcake coloring book might work just fine, too.

Cloister Talks – Best Read of the Summer

The summer is almost over and I have been intending to write a review on Jon Sweeney’s Cloister Talks: Learning From My friends the Monks, for most of it but as you know my summer has not gone as I intended so I am just getting around to it.

In this delightful book Sweeney relates some of the conversations that he has held over the last couple of decades with friends of his that are Cistercian and Benedictine monks.  To be honest though I am drawn to monastic practices I have never been drawn to read about life in a monastery until I picked up this book.  The insights gleaned from the wisdom and deep spirituality of Jon’s friends make this well written book a must read for anyone who wants to deepen their walk with God.  I plan to reread it again this weekend as Tom and I go on retreat.  I think it will help me develop a rhythm to life that looks more like the ancient way of Christianity rather than the often shallow rhythms we now model.

I love the way that Sweeney interweaves his conversations with living monks like Fathers Ambrose and Luke with comments and insights from the writings of Benedict and Merton.  This is a rich treasure trove of quotes, insights and understanding that has impacted me deeply.

One of my favourite quotes is from a conversation he had with Father Basil Pennington whose writings have taught me much about the contemplative life and centering prayer:

“The essence of the contemplative life and the monastic life is to give up yourself completely, to give yourself over completely to God and to others.  ANd regarding salvation – saving yourself is one of the more recent but persistent myths.  I’ll tell you it isn’t Catholic.  Jesus’s message was never about saving yourself, but about saving others.  We have to be interested in everyone’s salvation, not just our own, Basil said” p38

Another quote that really impacted me is:

The secret of your life begins and ends in silence.  Your ability to be a friend resides there too…. Silence is the school of love where you meet your Creator… It is in silence that you finally shut up the monkeys in your mind and the craziness in your life and listen to what he Father wants to say to your heart.  We listen separately but we are together…. god-as-love cannot wait for exquisite moments in your lives when the mood is just right.  God bombards us with love.  Love is going on in us all the time.

I hope that you enjoy Cloister Talks as much as I have.

Re-establishing Spiritual Practices in a New Place

This morning I have decided to post two articles in the What is a Spiritual Practice Series.

The first is by my good friend Eliacin Rosario Cruz who is obviously having a little fun with his post.  He has entitled it Being Quiet as a Spiritual Practice.

The second is by Ed Cyzewski author of Coffehouse Theology: Reflecting on God in Everyday Life a book that I thoroughly enjoyed reading and would heartily recommend to everyone.  He is a freelance writer and blogs at In A Mirror Dmly

It’s been two weeks since we made the move to Connecticut. Today I cut apart the last of the boxes in our living room, leaving only 3 in our bedroom out of those which still need to be unpacked.

Our futon frame arrived today and we’ll be shopping for a mattress this weekend.

We’ve been kayaking in the Long Island Sound twice, the UConn Dairy Bar once, and Diana’s Pool at least four times. I’ve been to Home Depot and Aldi twice. On our way back from Diana’s Pool there’s a nice guy with a huge garden and a tiny farm stand where we buy corn, cucumbers, and peppers. Just down the road from him is a lady with pick-your-own blueberries.

In short, we’re settling in.  Read the entire article