I’d never really been exposed to tea drinking while living in the United States. Until I met my wife’s family, who are prodigious tea drinkers, I’d learnt to live on a pot of brewed coffee per day.
Tea drinking was something I only saw on the Public Broadcasting System. My exposure was limited to images of stiff-upper-lipped Englishwomen sitting in gardens, drinking their tea with pinky fingers extended.
But here in Australia the process seemingly is repeated at least 17 times per day. Boil, pour, steep. Part of my Australification has been to learn the correct method for making tea. ‘Too much steeping’, they shout at me, ‘and your tea will be bitter! Too little and your tea will not have any taste.’
You’d think they were three bears berating Goldilocks.
And then they spoil it, by pouring in half a litre of milk and stirring in not one, but two, spoonfuls of sugar. (That’s why I stick to coffee.)
Boil, pour, steep.
This process plays out in our lives as Christians living in a distressingly non-peaceful world. Current events begin to simmer and boil. We hear them in the background of our collective conscience and make the mistake of pouring them into our hearts through our ears and eyes. Daily we turn on the television, surf the World Wide Web of fear, or shuffle the newspaper in front of us that screams, ‘Be afraid! Be very afraid!’
We have been steeped in fear for so long that we have become bitter to the world. The peace that passes all understanding passes right by our own hearts and minds.
But God calls out to us through the Scriptures, ‘Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests before God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4:5–7).
For the opposite of faith is not doubt, but fear; and the opposite of peace is not war, but anxiety. This world offers a proliferation of both fear and anxiety, but we are called to battle not with scimitars and submachine guns, but with prayers and petitions. We are called to allow ourselves the opportunity to recognise God’s nearness, even in the midst of fear and doubt, anxiety and war.
Peace that transcends understanding is a rare thing in our culture today. But the next time you hear the pot boiling and water pouring gently into a tea cup, and experience the slow, methodical waiting for a teabag to steep, remind yourself again of the gentle process of being steeped in the world, but not of the world.
Reid Matthias is school pastor at Faith Lutheran College, Plainland, Queensland.