Monday, July 23, 2018

A scholar's mug

One of the two yunomi from St. John's pottery.
Not the scholar's mug!
A few years ago I spent a few days on retreat at St. John's Abbey in Minnesota. In many ways St. John's resembles a medieval monastic enclave. There are bees, a woodworking shop that provides the furnishings for the college, a library, a guest house and a pottery. And a post office, but that sounds pretty modern. 

Caught out in a walk by a sudden thunderstorm, I ducked into the pottery.  There was a fire, there was tea. I spoke with the potters, learned about the huge wood burning kiln named Joanna that is fired but once a year, traded stories of travel in Japan. And I bought two yunomi (tea mugs), one that clearly shows the hands of the potter on it, and another, called a scholar's mug, rougher and clearly marked by the ashes of the kiln.

The first time I used the scholar's mug, I filled it generously and carried it to the table where I was writing.  I absentmindedly picked it up to take a sip, to find the cup too hot to handle.  Ouch!  I left it to cool. The next time I made tea, I made a collar for the mug using a furoshiki, like those you get at a coffee bar.  I quickly got better at folding either a small furoshiki or a thick paper towel to use.

It took almost a week for me to discover the trick of the scholar's mug. Fill it half full. The tea stayed warm, the top cool enough to comfortably hold.  It made me get up to refill it, to stretch at more regular intervals.

This is a true story. And a parable.

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