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This is a part of a group of blog posts about a tea shop I visited in Taiwan. I hope it will be a book soon, but for now, enjoy this part of the visit.
“..as was His custom..” (Luke 4:16)
The events in the Tea Shop were hard to put in chronological order, but I think it happened just after we began to share tea and before his wife brought out the food. He just stood up and began demonstrating what Tanya described as part of his “practice.” To be clear, he wasn’t describing his beliefs—he was sharing his practice. In one of the pictures, Tanya captured him holding his hands in a certain way. Shortly after this, he interlocked his fingers and then twisted them in the most interesting way. It was kind of like that thing some of us did in Sunday School where we said, “Here’s the church, and here’s the steeple…,” then we would turn our hands around and say, “…and, here’s all the people.” It was kind of like that but much more complex. He went on to do a sort of prayer pose, but his hands were behind his shoulders instead of in front. I think I pulled a muscle just thinking about it.
All of it seemed to have a flexibility theme. Later, he also demonstrated balance by standing on one leg on a stool and doing something similar to what Ralph Macchio did in the movie, Karate Kid. It was impressive to see a sixty-year-old balancing like that. I have seen that happen in McDonalds before, but it wasn’t intentional if you know what I mean. I was impressed and was more than ready for him to offer to sell me a book or DVD on the process. I would actually have paid top dollar for it—here was living proof that it works. His practice was effective and I wanted some of that in my life. But, the DVD offer didn’t come—he just returned to making tea for us as we waited for supper. This was his personal practice, influenced by his teacher probably a long time ago. He was excited about it, but it was personal.
The first thing that I notice from my friend in the Tea shop is that practices are both prescriptive and personal. There was an element of the practice that had been “passed down” to him but also there was an ownership of the practice as his own personal journey. Tanya told us his mentor taught him this practice, but she described it as “his” practice. The New Testament uses a Greek word, ethos, to describe the practices of Jesus and Paul and even the people. So, there is always the element of what we inherit in our practices and what we make personal in our situation. Jesus went up to the temple, but also went out in solitude to pray. His “Spirit and Truth” speech to the woman with questions seemed to indicate that although practices are passed down to us, they can also change over time.
My personal practice has evolved over time. I was raised with very little structure—no liturgy or practice really except that we were told to read the Bible, go to church and pray. When I taught 7th graders in Sunday school, that was their answer to everything. I have found some value in things like “well-crafted prayers” and liturgies that follow the church calendar. I have also incorporated the ancient practice of centering prayer, along with yoga and meditation. The writing that I do is also part of my practice. It helps me understand what I think—it clarifies my thoughts and helps me crystalize my intentions. Some people do this in a journal—it helps me to know that I’m sharing it with others—something about accountability. But, let’s get back to the Tea Shop. I think there are several lessons to learn from the man with no name.
The thing I remember most about his practice was that he was excited about it. His face lit up like a school boy at show-and-tell as he spoke and demonstrated how effective his practice was in his life. There was no doubt he believed in the practice, was committed to it and would most likely share it with anyone. People often get a little irritated because I want to talk about being vegan. Just like this man’s practice, I have to fight the urge to talk about it because it has done so much for me. It has reversed many of my health issues, I feel better, I believe in it! And, speaking of beliefs, he didn’t talk about his core beliefs at all. He didn’t try to “evangelize” us or share his gospel with us—he shared his practice with us. That meant so much more. I am curious about his beliefs because he shared his practice.
I am sure that his practice has some spiritual elements to it. It is very hard to separate the spiritual and the physical in this world. I understand them to be intricately connected, but he focused on the physical dimensions of his practice. I have seen people in religious circles almost make fun of anything physical. In Christian circles, the body is labeled as a temple. But, if we are going to espouse this as true, then how can we keep defiling this temple with what we put into it and how we treat it. This man was approximately 60 years old and moved like a teenager. I didn’t get the impression that he worshipped his body like a body builder might, but most of his practice was centered around caring for his temple. I don’t know if that’s what he called it, but he certainly treated it that way.
This care for his body even included his diet. It is pretty evident in Asian countries that there a lot less obesity and disease. This is changing in countries like China where they have heavily imported American food. Before I delve off into a rant about the benefits of a plant-based diets, suffice to say that part of our practice should be the care and nurture of our “temple” that serves as a vehicle to transport the and interact with the more spiritual parts of us. I have seen too many people claiming to be spiritual and laughing at people that care to have a practice of fostering good health. My friend in the Tea Shop found that he could do both—he was able to tend to his body and his soul through effective practices.
Since he didn’t have a DVD, I probably won’t adopt his practices. But, I probably shouldn’t do that anyway. If we lived close together, maybe I could learn more from him and that might be something I could incorporate into my practices. But, for now, it’s enough to observe and implement the things that I have inherited from my faith. Then, as I come to understand God and myself better, I can implement the practices that foster a body and soul that is healthy and vibrant and connected. By the way, I still read the Scriptures, but it much different than just a prescription handed out at a conference or a counseling session. I still pray but in a much deeper, fuller way than ever before. My new practices don’t replace those things, they only enhance them.
Like my coach used to say, “practice, practice, practice.”
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