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 only 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 Chinese 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 at 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.