Beauty & the Art of Tea
“There are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.” Henry James (1843 – 1916)
Afternoon tea is a time for beauty. Not a showy kind of beauty, but a genuine attempt to take pleasure in the beauty of common, everyday traditions, by taking time, by taking care.
Sometimes we want to have tea with others. Our purpose is to be with them gently, meaningfully. And so we take the time, make it nice, use the cloth napkins that must be ironed, take out our prettiest dishes, because those we want to spend time with mean THAT much to us. We honor them by creating a work of experiential art for them – the art of tea. We speak without words: “You are very special to me. I treasure my time with you.” They are worth the effort.
Sometimes, we need to have tea alone. Our well is dry. We need to create a little parenthesis that will feed our soul. We need time to reflect, time to restore. We need to fill our own cup, and the art of tea practiced even for an audience of one always succeeds in restoring our spirits.
Beauty found in the art of tea feeds the human spirit. The pioneer women settling the prairies, who were trying to make homes for their families out of sod houses, didn’t have much to work with, but creating beauty was still important to them. Even if it was a sod house, it was their home, their family, which were of great value. And so they did what they could to build beauty in. One of the ways they used was to find sticks with a Y-shape, then they would crochet something lacy and fanciful in the Y, and place it in a bottle on the table. A work of art. The human heart longs for beauty.
Every culture that has developed a culture of tea has also developed a love of beauty and fine things that go with tea. They have made it an art. Why? Taking time for ceremony is the art of appreciation. Beauty is evidence of appreciation, and enhances the experience. How very opposite a casual, sloppy society. When things are done in a haphazard, sloppy way, without care and thought, this devalues the people AND the experience, and denigrates what could be a memorable work of art.
Beauty feeds the human spirit, and the art of tea is an especially effective way to feed our spirit. But beauty doesn’t just happen; we must make it happen. It is worth the sacrifice. It will nourish our soul. May I remind you of the beautiful, old poem, written by a Persian poet in the 14th century:
If of thy mortal goods thou art bereft,
And from thy slender store
Two loaves alone to thee are left,
Sell one, and with the dole
Buy hyacinths to feed the soul.
Yours for the return of grace, civility, beauty, gentility, and excellence,