Tea with God
As a child, I worried about whether or not to believe in God. He was hardly ever mentioned in our family, except in my mother’s exclamations, so I didn’t know if he was real or not, but if he was and I didn’t believe in him, I thought it would hurt his feelings. I decided to try and make contact, by making a place for him where he knew he’d be welcome. It was under a forsythia bush in our backyard, in the cave formed by its hanging branches. Inside that dim chapel, I cleared the ground of leaves and, though I didn’t know what an altar was, I built a fairy table out of twigs and mud, about six inches high. I covered it with a tablecloth I made out of the heads of pansies, blue and purple, laid like overlapping shingles. I sat there in the close-to-dark, pleased with the holy place of mud I’d made. I wanted to talk to God, but I didn’t know what to say, so I just sat there.
The next day I crawled back in and saw that the place I had fixed up for God was now alive with big black ants. They drove like tiny cars in a traffic jam across the top of the altar, dragging away with them large pieces of the pansy petals for their larder. They had wrecked it-it was gross, not holy at all. I didn’t think God would ever come there even if he did exist.
When I was a teenager, I went to Quaker meeting and tried to talk to God there, but I only worried about my French homework. What was wrong with me? I found that if I closed my eyes and rolled them up inside my head, and aimed them at the place above my nose where Hindus put a red spot, I felt something new and strange-a vertigo, a lifting, verging on a headache. Could this be God? If so, he didn’t speak to me, nor I to him, and after a while I gave up that method.
When my son was four, he said, “I just found out how you can see God.” He was lying down in the back seat of the car (in the days before car seats), on the way home from nursery school. “You squeeze your eyes shut, as tight as you can, and you see a blue light, and that’s God.” I tried it-later, of course, not while I was driving-but it didn’t work for me.
When I began to practice Zen, it didn’t matter any more whether I could talk to God or he to me-Zen people don’t go in for that. It was a relief to stop worrying about God for awhile, though now I worried that I didn’t know how to meditate. It looked like I was meditating from the outside, but I was just sitting there, thinking random thoughts, and breathing. Nothing was happening. That’s what I still do-just sit, and nothing still happens. By now I’ve gotten used to it. I’ve learned that that’s what Zen practice is: “just sitting.” Still, sometimes it feels lonesome.
I’m getting to the point of my story.
I have no mate; I sleep alone. When I rise, I always drink a cup of green tea, and I watch the day begin. I brew the tea for three minutes in a red iron pot with dragonflies on it, and then I pour it into a white cup with a blue rim.
On Sundays I don’t set the alarm. One Sunday not so long ago I opened my eyes to a foggy morning. The bed was warm and I didn’t have to go to work. I thought with pleasure about how good it was going to be to drink my tea. But the catch was, I didn’t want to get out of bed.
I had no idea I was going to speak, but suddenly, to my surprise, I said out loud, “God, I have a favor to ask you. Would you bring me a cup of green tea?” It seemed a small thing to ask, especially when you consider that I had never really asked God for anything before.
Then God answered me, out loud, and that surprised me, too. His voice came out of my own mouth.
“I’m sorry, Sue,” he said. “I would if I could, but I don’t have the arms and legs the job calls for. But I completely support you in getting yourself a cup of tea. I’m with you all the way!”
I saw that he really wasn’t going to do it. “But God,” I said, “I don’t have anybody to bring me tea in bed.”
God said, “That’s not my fault. The fact that there’s nobody in the bed with you is the result of choices you yourself have made. Anyway, I’m right here. I’ll be glad to go down to the kitchen with you.”
I could tell that he meant it and I was deeply touched. I tossed back the quilt with a burst of zeal, and swung my bare feet to the cold floor.
I heard God say, just under his breath this time, “You go, Sue!”
While the tea brewed, I had three minutes to think of the times when I had had husband or lover in the morning bed, and as far as I could remember, none of them had ever brought me tea on Sunday morning. Maybe I never asked.
I sat on the porch with the blue-rimmed cup in my hands. The tea slaked my thirst, and I just sat there, watching a squirrel who was eating the buds of the passion vine on the roof next door.
Susan Moon is a Buddhist writer and teacher, and author of The Life and Letters of Tofu Roshi,, among other books. She lives in Berkeley, California. Visit her at susanmoon.wordpress.com.