Wednesday, December 8, 2010

God in my cup of coffee

This past Saturday we were treated at St. Paul's to a talk by Bonnie Thurston about Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941). Bonnie is a scholar and writer about religion, the Bible, theology and mysticism. And she is a good deal more than that. We were blessed to have Bonnie with us on Saturday to lead us into a prayerful place.

Her topic, Evelyn Underhill, was among the most influential theological writers of the 20th century because she wrote about finding the divine in ordinary life and ordinary things.

After her first talk, Bonnie asked us to spend time in silence and try one of Underhill's spiritual exercises. The exercise was this: Focus on a thought. It doesn't matter what the thought is. Focus on the thought and keep all other distractions away. See where it goes.

So I found a quiet place and thought for a moment. I was holding a warm coffee cup, and so began the focus of my thought: my coffee.

This is going to sound very odd, but I spent 30 minutes thinking about the coffee in my cup and how it got there, and I went on a wonderful journey that brought me face-to-face with God's creation, God's compassion and our deepest connections with each other.

An image came into my mind of the mountains in Costa Rica where the coffee beans are grown, and I thought about the farmer who grows those beans. I thought about his hands and how rough they must be from years of tending coffee trees, pruning, cutting, harvesting. I thought about his family, and how they pack the beans in sacks bring those beans to port to be loaded on a ship. I thought about all those who bring these beans to a roaster and how those beans get to a coffee pot to be brewed for my cup.

What became clear to me is how many people are connected through my cup of coffee. We are each connected by the God who creates us and creates these delightful beans we enjoy, brought to us by the labor of human hands. This is not about economic competition or national borders, but about a very human connection through God's creation: coffee.

I cannot but help have compassion based on this connection with all of those who brought me this warm cup of coffee. True compassion is not based on pity, for pity comes from an unequal relationship based on power. True compassion is based on connection -- the deepest connection of all, our connection through our creator and the divine thread that courses through each of us and all of the universe. It is how Julian of Norwich (1314-1462) was able to say that all of the creation -- "all that is made" -- could be found in a hazelnut in the palm of her hand and God's love within it.
"In this vision he showed me a little thing, the size of a hazelnut, and it was round as a ball. I looked at it with the eye of my understanding and thought 'What may this be?' And it was generally answered thus: 'It is all that is made.' I marvelled how it might last, for it seemed it might suddenly have sunk into nothing because of its littleness. And I was answered in my understanding: 'It lasts and ever shall, because God loves it.' "
We sometimes joke in the Episcopal Church that coffee is a sacrament, and that may be truer than we think. God gave us senses to enjoy each other and to enjoy God's creation. God gave us a soul to experience creation and to express our enjoyment. The divine really can be found in ordinary things, even in a cup of coffee.

Painting "Cup of Coffee," by Wayne Thiebaud.

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