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."