Friday, January 19, 2007

At the Tea Table

“The fruit of the Spirit is.....gentleness...” (Gal.5:22)

I have a wonderful little book in my library written in 1895 by the great preacher, T. DeWitt Talmadge, entitled, At the Tea Table. Few today will have heard of him, but according to one account I read, “He was probably the most spectacular pulpit orator of his time—and one of the most widely read.” In the old book (with the original copyright, by the way), Talmadge writes of that time of the evening when a family of that era would sit down to a table of light sandwiches, sweets, and the all-important tea pot. He then pictures, allegorically, individuals who might be in attendance at the table—for instance, “Dr. Butterfield” and “Mr. Givemefits,” whose conversations give very different perspectives on life.

A good deal of the first chapter sings the praises of tea, where Talmadge quotes a Chinese scholar of the previous century who said of it, “[Tea] tempers the spirits and harmonizes the mind, dispels lassitude and relieves fatigue, awakens thought and prevents drowsiness, lightens and refreshes the body, and clears the perceptive faculties.” Quite a claim, wouldn’t you say?

It may be argued that coffee affords some of these same benefits, but I would contend that surely the atmosphere, and quite possibly the conversation, at a coffee klatch would be noticeably different from that at a tea party. This is assuming, of course, that the tea is served from a lovely tea pot, and drunk from delicate tea cups, not sturdy mugs. Somehow, it would seem to me that the careful maneuvering of fragile china would inspire the same conscientiousness in conversation. If coarseness is unbecoming with an oversized mug in your hand, it is surely unforgivable with a bone china tea cup! I am being somewhat facetious, but only somewhat. You understand, I’m sure, that it’s not tea that I’m promoting so heartily (though I do love it); it’s the waning quality of gentility.

With all of our acquired access to activities and places that our grandmothers or great-grandmothers did not enjoy, it becomes easy, as women—even Christian women—to assume a masculine stride, figuratively, if not literally. And it is not a good trade-off, I will wager. I appreciate being able to go to college, earn a living, if necessary, and offer my thoughts in the arena of debate, but not if it costs me the unique pleasure of being regarded as a lady. Femininity may not always be fragile, but it is always gentle. It may have to do hard things, but never hurtful ones. It may be strong-minded, but never strong-willed. I may be old-fashioned, but I would disdain any activity that would require that I think like a man. I bring a woman’s, a mother’s, a grandmother’s, and a great-grandmother’s perspective to any conversation I engage in. And it is a valid perspective.

So, if you attend my tea table, you can expect lively conversation, my best china, and a pot of very hot tea. We may (no, we will!) laugh; we may cry; we may talk of day to day happenings, or we may talk of high and lofty things’ but we will most assuredly talk of God. And we will celebrate our great fortune to have been born women, with the distinct possibility of becoming women of God

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