Tea and spirituality



“Do you take coffee or tea?”  Some people are firmly in one camp or the other, but I believe in the power of both.   If I want to get out the door in the morning, I rely on a commuter mug of joe,  but if I want to take a quiet reflective pause in the evening, I put on the teakettle.

I guess it’s fair to say that coffee fuels my body, but tea fuels my soul.

Tea and prayer really are a perfect pairing.   Something about this drink seems to invite and create a powerful, contemplative frame of mind.  I think there are a few reasons for this.

1) Brewing tea is a ritual, and I’m big on those when it comes to prayer.  Filling the kettle, plunking it on the burner, hearing the catch of the gas as it lights, picking a teabag from my extensive collection (my husband wonders how I can possibly have a whole shelf devoted to tea), waiting for the whistle, pouring the hot water and watching the water turn to amber … it’s something I know by heart.  In all the things life throws at me (Sick kid! Big change at work!  Car trouble!), it is lovely to have a constant.

It’s one of the reasons I love the Mass, in fact.  We need some things to be as familiar as breathing.

2) Tea makes you slow down.  You can’t gulp it; it’s not Gatorade or beer.  You have to sip it at a leisurely pace, especially if you take it black as I do, without the cooling properties of milk.  You can’t rush a cup of tea, and since life makes me rush almost everything else, I love this forced pause.

Pret-tea tin, isn't it?  (the taste is amazing, too)

Pret-tea tin, isn’t it? (the taste is amazing, too)

3) Tea involves the meeting of multiple senses.  There’s the sound of the boiling teakettle.  There’s the heat of the cup in my hands.  There is the fragrance curling up to my nose.  There is the taste of the tea on my tongue.  There’s the gradual darkening of the tea as I steep it.  Sometimes there is even the visual feast of a floral teacup or a particularly pretty kind of tea packaging.  And savoring  these senses is a potent prayer to the One who gave them to us in the first place.

But enough writing;   I’m going to put the kettle on.  Care to join me?

In praise of simple toys

If you know what this is, you probably have a child between ages seven and twelve.


And if you don’t: It’s a kendama, and it’s currently the toy of the moment at my sons’ school.  At morning dropoff the other day, I noticed no less than five kids playing with one as they waited for the morning bell.

For the uninitiated, it’s a game where you try to swing the string in order to make the ball land on the wooden bowl on the side.  That’s the most basic step; once you master that, you can move onto really hard moves, like getting it to land on the spike on the top, or doing a series of intricate maneuvers (side, spike, side, etc.) without once messing up.

I stink at this, maybe because I’ve always been about as gifted at coordination as I am  at understanding particle physics.  But my boys adore the kendama, as do their friends both male and female.  And they’re not the only ones.

“I love that this toy is so low-tech,” another mom told me recently, a sentiment I’ve heard echoed by other parents.  In our digital/plugged-in/constantly wired age, how refreshing is it to see something so darn simple in our kids’ hands for a change?  (Very refreshing.)

I would suspect that part of its appeal for kids is how tactile it is (yes, I’m all about the senses these days).  You can only get so much joy from swiping a screen or hitting a keyboard, but when you are holding a wooden handle and feeling the tension and release of the string and the victorious vibrating thunk of the wooden ball finally landing on the spike, you get a kind of concentrated sensory feedback that many toys don’t provide.

Similar sentiments crossed my mind a few years ago, when we were helping my in-laws clean out their basement and found a jar of marbles.  How old these marbles are  we can’t begin to guess; it’s highly possible that my mother-in-law and her brothers played with them in the thirties and forties.


My boys glommed onto them immediately, and who can blame them?  They are so beautiful, with those vivid swirls of color, and they are so cool and smooth to the touch.  We figured out how to play, and Matthew and I had some fierce games last summer, and it was so nice to play with something so simple and real, hearing the emphatic click as one knocked another out of the circle.  They make such a satisfying squidgy sound when you hold a bunch of them in your palm and rub them against each other; it’s almost the sound snow makes when you crunch it down with your feet.  It’s great that a toy so simple has such complex and positive rewards.

What about you? Are you (or your kids) partial to simple toys?  Which are your favorites?


Coming spring of next year … a new book!


Think back over the last twenty-four hours.  Where and how did you encounter God’s goodness?

Odds are good your answer sounds something like this:

*I saw God in the morning sunrise
*I heard God in the voices of my kids at play
*I smelled God in the honeysuckle in the neighbor’s yard
*I touched God in the healing warmth of a friend’s hug
*I tasted God in that cup of dark delicious coffee

The last few years, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the role that the senses play in my spiritual life.  I’ve realized that my daily experiences of God end up reading a lot like the list above.  I’ve learned that faith is not purely an abstract, intellectual thing; it’s a full-body experience.  I’ve discovered that God reaches out to us through the language we know best: the language of the senses.  And I’ve realized that my Catholic faith, with all its stained glass and rosaries and music and smells and bells, has me by the heart for precisely this reason.

And I turned all of these thoughts into a book!  It’s called Taste and See: Experiencing the Goodness of God with Our Five Senses, and it will be published next spring by Loyola Press (insert happy dance here).

I’m really excited about this book.  It was hugely rewarding to write, and I hope it’ll be just as rewarding to read.  It’s divided into five sections, one for each sense, and it looks at the various ways that God speaks to us through that sense.  Some are everyday, universal experiences, like hearing a friend’s voice or holding a loved one; some are specifically Catholic, like praying with a rosary or partaking of the Eucharist. There are prayer exercises for each chapter, too, if you’re the praying type (and if you’re reading this blog, I have a feeling you are.)

May 1st is the official publication date, but it’s already on Amazon  and on Goodreads (if you want to add it to your Want-to-Read list, that would be more than okay by me).  And it has a hot-off-the-presses cover, which I just love.  (I joked with the Loyola folks that they should have a cover which incorporates the five senses — a musical chip, a scratch-n-sniff patch, a fuzzy spot à la Pat the Bunny – but the cover above isn’t bad as an alternative.)

So that’s my big news!  I can’t wait to share the book with you all.  Only seven more months to wait….

When do you find time to pray?

Prayer is sort of like exercise.  I don’t really have time to do it, but I’m not a healthy person  if I skip it.

So I make time.  Not enough, admittedly, but enough to keep me at a baseline level of spiritual fitness.

It occurred to me that it might be helpful to share when I manage to squeeze this prayer into the mix of my busy day, because my busy day probably looks a lot like your busy day, and the more we moms can share tips about how we keep healthy and happy, the better off we all are.  So here it is, my answer to the question When do you pray? 

And I do hope  you’ll share your own answer in the comments below, because I want to learn from your wisdom and experience!

Mornings, Before Work (otherwise known as Prayer By Stealth)

A while back, I realized that if I sneak a cup of  morning coffee back to my bedroom and close the door, I can actually manage to work in five minutes of uninterrupted prayer.  My  kids see the closed door and assume I am spending the whole time getting dressed, so they leave me in peace.    It is sneaky but effective.

During that brief time, I usually look at the Mass readings in Give Us This Day, and/or pray with a daily devotional (two I’m into at the moment are The Ignatian Book of Days and WholeHearted Living).  I might also read the daily devotion on Blessed Is She.   It’s a nice little ritual that helps me start my day on a good note.

Drive to Work: Praying with Music

On my commute — which is a half-hour — I sometimes listen to music that gets me in a prayerful space.  Sometimes this is the local classical radio station, and sometimes it’s a CD of more “churchy” songs that actually mention God.

And sometimes I just listen to stuff that doesn’t feel prayerful at all but simply wakes me up. ABBA fits in that category (though with a name like that, can’t I make a case that they are a churchy group too?)


Nighttime: Prayer Desk and candles

Okay, I don’t do this prayer every night; sometimes the siren song of the couch and TV is just too strong.  But often I retreat to the prayer desk in our bedroom, light a candle, and take a few moments to sit in quiet and peace.  I might pray the Examen, or run through a litany of requests and concerns, or pick up the rosary and finger the beads in a sort of wordless prayer.  I might just stare at the candle flame and feel the presence of God.  There is something precious about my prayer corner at night; it feels so holy and unhurried, somehow, with the shadow of the candle flame flickering on the closed blinds.

It is always better than watching TV.  Funny how easy it is to forget that.

Random Times During the Day

Someone famous once said to pray without ceasing.  St. Ignatius of Loyola said you can find God in all things.  Both ideas point to the reality that prayer can be instinctive, and informal; almost a way of being as opposed to a specific action or practice.

Much of my prayer ends up feeling like that: a wordless recognition of the goodness of God all around me.  This feeling might come on me when I see my kids playing together in the front yard, or when I see a man helping his elderly wife across the street.  It might come upon me when I walk past a fragrant honeysuckle bush on my Sunday morning walk, or when my family does a group hug.  It might come upon me in the sight of the sky the other night, admiring the moon on the rise as it peeks through the strands of pink and blue.


So how about you?  When do you find time to pray?

Many parts, one body


IMAG7064 (1)

“After you receive the body of Christ, you should return to your pew, kneel down, and pray,” said my second-grade teacher as she prepared our class for our First Holy Communion.  Those moments after receiving the Eucharist are a holy and special time, we were taught, a beautiful time to pray.

As a child, I followed her directions carefully.  Back in my pew after receiving Communion,  I would kneel, hands clasped, eyes usually closed as I mentally ran through a list of things I wanted God to do for me or for people I loved.  (I’d throw in some thank-yous, too, just for balance.)

But now, as an adult, I often find that my post-Communion prayer is something quite different.  Instead of closing my eyes and offering a laundry list of requests, I often keep my eyes open and watch the people filing down the aisle.

Yes, in part, this is a writer’s curiosity at work;  I love to watch people, whether in the airport or at the mall or at church.  But it’s more than that.  I think of my watching as a kind of prayer in and of itself, a way to recognize the many many people who make up the body of Christ.

In the Communion line, I see people I know.  I see people I don’t know.  I see elderly men leaning on canes and newborns carried in parents’ arms.  I see women in tailored clothes and men with tattoos for sleeves.  I see people who are short, tall, thin, broad, male, female, smiling, serious, slow, fast, peaceful, restless, distracted, focused.  I see people whose struggles are written on their faces and people who seem to have no struggles at all, though I know that’s not true, and that everyone in that line has some need they are bringing to God.

And, most of all, I see color,  every skin tone that God made.  I see six continents represented in the communion line, a small world filing down the center aisle and around the sides.  And that feels right to me.  I don’t think I could trust a church where everyone in the pews looks exactly like me.  Such a church would feel incomplete; even wrong, somehow.  But my church – my church with its wonderful wide variety of diverse humanity, speaking different languages and wearing different clothes and eating different foods and yet facing the same human struggles, and finding the same source of solace and love at the end of the communion line – this is the church I believe in.  This is the church I love.

And remembering that?  Often, that’s the best prayer I know.