There are few hours in life more agreeable
than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.
~Henry James, Portrait of a Lady
(quoted on p.39 of The Metaphor Maker,
by Patricia Adams Farmer)
Though it was never accompanied by much ceremony, I grew up drinking tea. It was a habit of my mother when I was a child to have a cup most every evening, and it’s still a ritual we both enjoy to this day. And though we have no roots on the other side of the pond, we drink it British style, with milk. Though Mom has of late been foregoing any kind of sweetener, my preference is to add a spoon of honey from the Webb’s bees in Clarkesville, Georgia.
After my sophomore year at Purdue University, I left the dormitory for apartment life, and my roommate Laurel and I would commiserate about boys in our small eating area off the kitchen. Those conversations always seemed enriched by a cup of tea and a Pop-Tart. Hot tea soothed broken hearts and sometimes we held onto those best-friend rituals as if they were lifesavers. They were lifesavers.
Eve went to prepare the tea, which was easy enough since she had already put on the kettle for herself. As she poured the boiling water over the dry leaves, she felt the significance of such a simple ritual. The very act was like a thread of history, linking Eve to her mother and to past generations, all of whom found comfort from the woes of life – toothaches to heartaches – with a calming reassuring cup of tea. (86)
Between the years of 2006 and 2009, I lived in the north Georgia mountains near the small town of Clarkesville and it’s the place I consider the home of my soul. During that period, I wrote a twice-monthly column for the local newspaper, and in one of those essays I described a recent visit to a monastery.
I spent a few days earlier this year in silence at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia. It had been a very hard and sad December for me – for a lot of reasons – and once we rang in the New Year I just felt the need to leave behind all the distractions of telephone and email for at least a few days.
The Monastery was established in the 1940’s when a group of Trappist monks traveled to Georgia from Kentucky to build a new community. It’s a beautiful place with a lake, ducks and geese, and the beauty continues inside as well, especially in the cathedral with its soaring ceiling and stained glass windows.
Retreatants that come to the monastery are welcome to join in any, all or none of the worship services led by the brothers, but what felt most holy to me was the last service of the evening that began with the monks’ chanting in a deep darkness broken only by candlelight.
When your soul is carrying heavy burdens, the evocative beauty of holy ritual can lift those burdens like steam rising from a comforting pot of tea. Holy moments of synchronicity kept tapping me on the shoulder, showing me over and over again that God saw me and knew my heart. And after a Divine accident put a book in my path that brought tremendous healing, I knew once again that I had been touched by Grace.
Tea and Grace. Sometimes that which is most simple and earthy can be accompanied by that which is most holy.