Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Christianity & The Tea Ceremony: Reverence For The Holy Spirit

Being that last week was the holiest week for Christians, coupled by all the media coverage the Catholic Church has been receiving as of late, one spent some time reflecting on the often overlooked relationship that Christians have with tea.

Although tea is usually associated with religions of the east- Buddhism, Daoism, and Confucianism, the role of tea in Christianity should not be ignored. Historically, this relationship between tea and Christianity was the deepest during the early Jesuit missionaries to Japan in the 16th and 17th centuries. During this time, the tea ceremony was being refined and popularized in Japan by now famous masters such as Sen No Rikyu.

Although the tea ceremony in Japan is often associated with Zen Buddhism it isn't a religious ceremony. In fact Sen No Rikyu made a point to exclude all religious symbols from the tea room. But some say that it is not a coincidence that many old tea bowls have crosses painted on them.

Surprisingly, many of Rikyu's 7 famous students are thought to have been Christian. The strongest in his Christian faith was Justo Takayama Ukon who was exiled when Christianity was outlawed in the early 1600. It is said that Takayama would meditate and pray alone with a statue of Mary and the crucified Jesus for hours in the tea room. The tea room for Christians was a place where they could serve their neighbour with humility just as Jesus taught. When churches were occupied by soldiers , the tea room was used to hold church services. In fact, there is even art depicting churches with attached tea rooms- something the Jesuits tried to incorporate with their church design. The early Jesuit missionaries thought that tea was good at cooling the Kidneys and therefore promoted celibacy amongst its priests (perhaps if the Catholic priests of the last 50 years had drank more green tea they wouldn't be in this current day mess :)

It is hard for Christians to ignore the similarities between the Japanese tea ceremony and the Eucharist (receiving of bread and wine). If they can receive tea as reverently as they can receive bread and wine, then have they not touched the Holy Spirit?

As modern day Christians draw these similarities and look to meld the ancient tea traditions of their nation with Christianity, it is no wonder more and more tea rooms are being attached to churches in Korea and Japan these days.

Perhaps in the not too distant future there will even be tea pots engraved with:

"Tea and Christianity are not two but One."



khelo said...

I disagree.

Matt said...


Wish to elaborate?


Sir William of the Leaf said...

This is such an amazing post!

Matt said...

Sir William of the Leaf,

Sounds like you enjoyed this thought provoking comparison!


Asiatic Fox said...

While I do not find tea to necessarily be a spiritual thing in and of itself, I do find reflection on it to be faith strengthening.

What I'm saying is this: When I drink a tea, and really enjoy it, I think 'Hey, this wonderful thing did not come about by itself. This plant was created by God, as is all creation.'

Wherever you look in nature, you can see God's hand in things. A real testament is how we were made. We were made to enjoy life, and to enjoy the things in it. Tea is one of those things, and when I drink it, I often do pray thanks to Jehovah for providing such a delicious and variable plant, and for allowing me to be able to taste, smell, and enjoy it.

Romans 1:20 - "For his invisible [qualities] are clearly seen from the world’s creation onward, because they are perceived by the things made, even his eternal power and Godship, so that they are inexcusable"

Really, this is a feeling that one should feel and meditate on throughout the day, and not only just during a tea session. But a tea session is always a good place to start.

Just thought I'd throw that in there.


Matt said...


Your view of drinking tea to augment spirituality is a wonderful thought.

If you don't find tea to be spiritual, least you find it as a tool to which you can focus on your faith.

If you can be mindful drinking tea, you can be mindful living life.


Alex Zorach said...

I've never heard anyone draw an analogy between the Eucharist and the Japanese tea ceremony before, but these connections that you highlight make sense.

A bit of a stretch to say tea and Christianity are one, but they certainly have some nice intersection/interaction, and I appreciate this post! =)

Matt said...


No doubt, most Catholics would natural disagree that the Eucharist and tea ceremony are the same. But perhaps for some Christians this isn't that much of a stretch.

Thanks for your thoughts.


Matsuda Mommy said...

I Just took a class in tea ceremony and discussed this with my Sensei, who was not aware of this. I can see very clearly how Christians could adopt this as the Eucharist in a country and time when wine and bread did not exist. The Japanese tea ceremony is not just drinking tea. It is a very symbolic ceremony graced with beauty, precision, humility, and takes years to fully understand and master. Sweet Tea cakes are first served followed by bitter green tea. I see the flavors of bitter and sweet also have symbolic meaning in Jewish tradition as well.