A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Sit and Sip

by Fr Phil Cody SM

On my recent retreat the theme that challenged me was to ‘sit and sip’. It centred on ‘having a cup of tea’! All very innocuous we might think, but a full cup of wisdom present.

The expression that focussed the retreat was part of Thich Nhat Hanh’s theme of ‘mindfulness’. That is, being mindful to God present right here and now. We might know that spiritual principle as ‘the grace of the present moment’ (Jean Pierre de Caussade) or ‘the power of now’ (Eckhart Tolle).

The actual sentence that struck me was: “Drink your tea - slowly and reverently - as if it is the axis on which the whole earth revolves, slowly, evenly – without rushing toward the future. Live the actual moment; only this moment is life”. 1

So the trick is to be present to sipping THIS cup of tea. A reverence in the tasting. An evenness which is timeless. The image of all else taking its proper place and only this ‘drink’ being key. Slowing down and living in the present.

I don’t know about you, but I am a great person for NOT living in the present! In fact anywhere but the present. I am already planning who I will meet next, what I need to get to prepare for tea, what I need to get done before the end of day.

That can cause a lot of anxiety. I worry about what’s in the fridge and what is on the shopping list. I put a lot of energy into organising in my mind and worrying what might happen if... Most of that ‘rushing toward the future’ I can’t really control and it may not happen at all. Spiritually, I have no ‘grace’ for some future time - only for today and right here and now!

A couple of examples of how to ‘sit and sip’. Someone is annoying me, going on and on about what is important to them. I can feel the tension in me. Should I interrupt and say ‘Excuse me, I’m not really interested in all that. I have another agenda in mind’!

I may not be actually having a cup of tea at the time. However, if I imagine myself sitting still and sipping my ‘tea’, I can feel the tension drain away. In fact I might start to realise this person has some issue that is bugging them! I ‘sip’ and listen to my own breathing and start to let the annoyance go. Normally some peace comes and I relax. I may still say something, but it might be more like “Wow, you have a lot going on. It must be difficult... I wonder if...” I might clarify what they are saying. I might still say at the right time, “I have some appreciation of what you are saying but right now I also need to take some space...” (or whatever the situation is).

Another situation is when I am driving at night and a SUV comes right up close to my ‘tail’ with lights blazing above me, rather like a bully. Part of me wishes I could do a James Bond trick and blast their car with spikes. I really have to do my homework and ‘sip my tea’, until it is safe to let them pass and tear off into the night.

This ‘sitting and sipping’ can exist alongside the gift I have to plan and organise. It is important to know what is in the fridge and what is needed for dinner. However that is no longer an ‘escape’ where I am ‘rushing toward the future’.

Mum taught me this but I don’t think I really appreciated it at the time! She was a great one for what seemed like endless cups of tea! All the time, neighbours, friends, visitors and even work people doing things at our home were stopping for cups of tea! In those days too, a cigarette might well be part of the mix. I’m not sure how many ‘problems’ were shared and largely solved over those ‘cuppas’. I think I regarded it all as a waste of time.

Maybe I am learning and it is not too late.

One Māori group I am blessed to share with, relate their origin as a spiritual movement to a ‘cup of tea’. It began with a prophet Mareikura who was invited by a woman to stop by and ‘have a cup of tea’. He did that and shared advice and wisdom which was (and is) exactly what the people needed to claim their mana and identity in a rapidly changing world. In fact their very survival as a family group came out of that meeting. It is called the Māramatanga, the source of wisdom for full living as a people today. They constantly tell the story of that first ‘cup of tea’. It would have been so easy to have said ‘No, I’m too busy’, and ‘rushed off toward the future’, or not to have invited him to stop at all. That he was invited and did stop gave life and well-being to future generations.

No doubt much more could be said about ‘tea’ and various traditions around tea ceremonies. Think of Japanese and Chinese rituals and of course the English, for starters. You will have your own insights and experiences.

While on retreat I visited a tea museum which contained various tea pots and tea cups and tea sets.2 It brought home to me that many humans preserve ceremony around tea drinking.

Perhaps I am seeing things more simply as I ‘mature’. I don’t recall being too excited about tea drinking when younger! I easily and quickly gulped my tea. I don’t remember too much theological or spiritual reflection on tea drinking. However, there was always something there. One such memory is being the tea-maker for a fencing crew. It was my job to split the totara and ensure a big pot was brewing for ‘smoko’. Then the delight while tramping to get the billy boiling and to sit and enjoy the view and be refreshed.

“Drink your tea - slowly and reverently - as if it is the axis on which the whole earth revolves, slowly, evenly – without rushing toward the future. Live the actual moment; only this moment is life”.   

1  The Pocket Thich Nhat Hanh, Shambhala, Boulder, Colorado 2012, p. 36f

2  Bygone Beauty’s Treasured Teapot Museum and Tearooms. Leura, Blue Mountains, Australia

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