The Eucharist & The Way of Tea

I attended my first tea ceremony some years ago at a Japanese garden, and I was struck by how much it reminded me of a Eucharistic meal.

The lovely woman in a kimono and obi performed each step of brewing and serving tea with great intention.  She concentrated deeply on each step, and it was a ceremony of pure art, as surely a work of art as any dance or music recital.

The ethos of the Way of Tea is called shibui (pronounced “shee-BOO-ee”), also called shibusa.  The most succinct way to translate shibui is “restrained elegance”, though it is far more complex and nuanced than that.

As I sat there before the tea master, I could not help but sense her reverence about such a common, mundane act as making and serving tea.  It reminded me of the care and deliberateness with which the Eucharist was celebrated by priests I knew in Opus Dei.  There was a great reverence and intention in their consecration and distribution of the elements of the Eucharist, and it had about it all the elegance and art of a tea ceremony – a work of art in the presence of The Divine.

I learned something about the Eucharist the day I attended my first tea ceremony.  I learned to step back in humility before the magnitude of what was about to happen on the altar, and to be a modest servant and simple worshipper in the presence of The Divine.  I learned that The Divine can be found in the most mundane event, if we are but present to it.  We should show it respect, be deliberate about it, and perform it with restrained elegance.

“Teasim [the Way of Tea] is a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence…  It is essentially a worship of the Imperfect, as it is a tender attempt to accomplish something possible in this impossible thing we know as life.”

-Okakura Kakuzo, “The Book of Tea”.

I hope I can bring the same ethos of the Way of Tea to the rest of my life, to be aware of the presence of The Divine in every person I meet and event I encounter; to treat everyone and everything with great deliberateness and right intention, yet with modesty and simplicity, to accomplish something possible in this impossible thing we know as life.   Jesus treated people and events that way, with one exception: faith leaders who did not.  If Jesus held anyone in contempt, it was the haughty and hypocritical.

There is nothing haughty or hypocritical about bread and wine, let alone tea.  I cannot think of anything simpler and more pure than the elements of the Eucharist.  When I stand at the altar and set it for the Eucharistic meal, all that is there – framed by a small tablecloth of linen – is a cup of wine laced with water and a plate of bread.  Yet contained therein lies the restrained elegance of the universe itself.  I pray that I remember the universe when I see the bread and wine, and remember the bread and wine when I see the universe.

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