Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Drinking from the mug of Indifference

Mugs are firmly embedded in my prayer life.   If I'm going on retreat -- even for a night of silence -- I take my mug.  Morning prayer with a hot cup of black, sweet, tea is both bracing and warming.  Outside when the weather permits, a window with a view if it does not.

The 30-day retreat to make the Spiritual Exercises was no exception. But three days into the Exercises, while washing it out, my mug slipped out of my hands and crashed into the sink.  So. I will not prefer my mug to one of the mugs set out in the dining hall.  #PrincipleAndFoundation #Indifference

Last week I took a group of students up to the Jesuit Center at Wernersville for three days to try an experience of silence. They are taking a linked set of courses on contemplative practices, one on the Buddhist rhetoric of meditation, one on the psychology of mindfulness, and mine, on the spaces of silence in the western contemplative traditions.  We are also headed to Japan in a couple of weeks, two weeks, no checked luggage, and so while reading the desert fathers and mothers, we've been talking about living and traveling light. 

I left my mug home.

I missed it.  I also didn't pack the yuzu tea I've been drinking for an awful case of laryngitis, or my favorite English breakfast tea.  I missed them, too.

It's not that they took up so much room in my bag, I could have tucked them in without effort.  There was something of the experience of simply going, of leaving without looking back.  No second tunic, no mug when I was sure there would one there I could use.  Fuge, tace, quiesce. Flee, be silent, be still.
This lesson in indifference reminded me of the story of my mug at summer school for theology. I was taking an early morning course, and tea at the break was most welcome. There was a lounge downstairs with a kettle and sink and a place to hang your mugs, mostly used by the sisters who were in the MA program and staying for the summer in the dorms. I brought a bright yellow mug from home to use, hung it on the rack, and enjoyed my tea for the first two days. Day three and my mug is nowhere to be found. I brought another one in.   I couldn't imagine that any of the sisters would have taken it, we all had our own mugs. 

 A week later one of the sisters took me aside and told me she found my mug. The bishop had it, she said.   A bishop from South America had come for the summer to brush up on his theology. He was a delightful fellow student, but he had also wanted a mug for his coffee. He asked the dean where he might find one, and the dean had come down, unaware that the mugs on the rack were not "seminary mugs," pulled down my mug and handed it over. "This should do," she said.

My informant had the story straight from bishop, by asking him where he'd found the great yellow mug. And no, none of us told him! He was such a nice guy, we could not bring ourselves to embarrass him, or the equally delightful dean.


  1. Your reflections remind me of "The Cup of Life" by Joyce Rupp, my first Rupp book many years ago.

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  3. Lynda3:08 PM

    Michelle, thanks for the reminder that we don't need things - even things that we really like. Blessings on your time in Japan!!

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