Saturday, January 23, 2016

Winter tea: the scholar's mug

Summer yunomi on patio
at Collegeville Institute
Two summers ago I spent a week at the Collegeville Institute at a workshop on memoir.  The week before I spent time at the St. John's Abbey guesthouse, on a quiet retreat.  I took long walks, (mostly) timed to miss the thunderstorms.  One afternoon rain arrived before I was well back from my walk, so I ducked into the Abbey pottery, where a tea table, with sand and a charcoal brazier was set and ready to share with guests.  I had a cup of tea and enjoyed a delightful conversation with the artist in residence about Japan.

I bought two yunomi (the taller than they are wide Japanese everyday tea cups)  — a summer one and a winter one) — fired in the Abbey's wood kiln.  You can see the marks of the flames on the winter cup, which the potter named the "scholar's mug," and every time I drink from it I think of the abbey's hospitality and Abba Joseph, his hands aflame.

I quickly learned not to fill the handleless mug all the way with tea, the ceramic quickly becomes too hot to lift.  It's a lesson I keep re-learning, as I am tempted to add just a tad more in hopes of not having to return to the kitchen for a refill as often.

As I return to the classroom after my sabbatical, my scholar's mug reminds me not to fill my days or calendar too full.  It's a lesson I have to keep re-learning here, too.  Somehow I have three classes, in different parts of the building, in very different parts of the curriculum (an introductory class, a graduate class, a major's upper division class), scheduled back to back and through lunch.  By the end of the day on Wednesday my metaphorical mug was too hot to handle.

Every day, I begin again.

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