Keep Your Warmth: Coffee, Tea, and Connection
Here in Minnesota, we met our first real snowfall of the year with a barricade of hot drinks. A friend from the South asked how I handle the winters here, and while perhaps my mind should have gone to relationships, community, and family, my knee-jerk response was “With coffee, tea, and every hot beverage ever.”
This advice might sound duly practical, but ask any Midwesterner and they might tell you there’s more to it than that. As the bright white of the holidays turns to brown snow-slurried streets, and winter’s chill seeps deep into our bones, our consolation is holding warmth itself in our hands. In this way a coffee cup, one of our culture’s favorite vessels, goes beyond usefulness. It is both a holder of heat and a remedy for cold; a solution, as well as a soother.
I’ve always felt an affinity for vessels. Handmade earthenware, stone, wicker, ceramic—I derive great joy from giving everything a home. For some, this natural desire may translate into adopting lots of puppies (you know who you are). For me, it’s an unreal assortment of coffee mugs. In fact, I have often purchased a vessel as real estate well before I had any plans to fill it. I wasn’t entirely aware of this personality quirk until a few years ago, when my then-fiance made several observations about our wedding registry. While his pragmatism had a point, the reason I am drawn to vessels is more than just a solution for clutter.
Henry David Thoreau believed that the “grand necessity” for life was to keep the “vital heat” in us. In my modern, surface-level context that means knit fingerless gloves on travel mugs, and I layer my drinks as I layer my clothing: coffee in the morning and once more before 4 p.m., tea between meals and just before bed, and toddies when my throat begins to ache. I may or may not use a different vessel for each occasion (so. many. dishes.) because although they all serve the same practical purpose, each one provides a different experience. Here’s a little guide to my madness:
French Press: white mug with blue Fair Isle - a thick sweater of a brew
Pour-over coffee: glass mug - so you can see the coffee!
Herbal Tea: Tall ceramic with wooden lid - for a deep steep
Toddy: whatever my husband brings me - caregiver’s choice
Important note: Never, ever, use a black mug for black coffee.
Though I could go on about my obsessive tendencies, I’ll level with you: this isn’t really about my beverage habit. While our steamy novelty drinks alleviate the effects of cold weather, the fact is that people have bigger needs, requiring a “vital heat” of the soul. Many times our solutions involve really good things like prayer and well-wishing, but I think there can be an even more holistic way to address the struggles of the day—something that can help us to better internalize our role here on this earth—and it’s something of an object lesson in these very common, practical, and purposeful things called vessels. Vessels in their unassuming, even hospitable nature have a lot to teach us about how we can be “vital heat” unto each other.
Vessels both symbolize and literally embody a position of receiving. They are perpetual holders. We have used them throughout history to contain things that would otherwise escape through our fingers, like drinking water, honey, or salt. These substances which preserve and offer a remedy for mortality are able to be kept for our times of need.
Likewise, we humans can be the holders of remedies for the weary spirit. Proverbs 16:24 says, “Kind words are like honey—sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” Stocking up on kindness requires an emptying of thoughts which are detrimental to our sense of worth, or that of others. Think of it as cleaning out the French press.
A good serving vessel is large and capable of pouring. If I make a pot of Margaret’s Soother and pour some into your cup, I have allowed my capacity to overflow. This act of sharing actually invites good community and a sense of belonging to those involved.
This focus on hospitality is essential to imparting warmth to others. Some nights, when life is crazy and dinner accidentally happens over the kids’ bedtime, my husband and I find that we forget to enjoy the meal together. We eat in a rush, exhausted and still reeling from a day of work, family, and assorted worldly cares. Sometimes we forget to say grace, and I neglect water and later wake thirsty in the middle of the night. It is easy in our works-based culture to go about checking boxes on a to-do list, even with our closest family, but this tends to leave us feeling all the more detached. Most of us want to feel a sense that we are no longer striving toward goals but existing in a safe place—that we have arrived at home.
Achieving this restful state of being takes a slowing down. The words “being” and “belonging” actually share some etymology, with a meaning around “bringing forth” and “causing to grow,” that it would seem the two are intertwined. A vessel does not keep track of pace; it simply allows a space to reside.
Let’s empty ourselves of this notion of a to-do list for our interactions with people, and begin operating on a system of being. Let’s enter our daily life with an openness, with a care and regard for the human spirit, as vessels of the kind of warmth that is satisfying to the soul. If you’re like me, you’ve already stashed an impressive collection of reminders all throughout your home.