Tea and Book Pairing: Golden Tea for Good Companionship

True fellowship in the life of faith is a treasure chest filled with joys. When we find it in books or in persons, it’s worth celebrating with the best things we can bring to the table. That’s why I paired The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the Philokalia by Angela Doll Carlson with Tealyra’s Imperial Golden Monkey Yunnan black tea. This tea is smooth and a little malty, perfect on its own. If you want to experience a companionable tea, this is the one to splurge on. Drink it hot or warm with no additions. I steep it a bit strong sometimes, but this tea is perfect with a lower proportion of leaves in the pot.

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What could be better on a trip to the shore than warm tea, The Wilderness Journal, and honeycomb to sweeten the salt air?

As for the book, it makes the company and good advice of the saints accessible in perfectly paired reflections and quotes from the Philokalia. It’s arranged by date, so you can jump in at any point. These reflections bring immediacy of experience to the words from wise men of earlier centuries, inviting us to enter the unvarnished, impartial, but particular and close grace of God right where we are.

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Each section of the book begins with an introduction to help familiarize readers with some of the context of the excerpts from the Philokalia. Full disclosure: I wrote the brief introduction on St. John of Karpathos for the month of December.  

I highly recommend this book to tuck into your commuting bag, to sit on the seat beside you for moments waiting on your carpool members, to read in the morning or evening by your bed, or to take with you to the mountains or the sea.

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I brought the icon. My mother picked the sturdy sea shore flowers. My daughter collected the shells. Looking at this photo, I can taste the salt and the relief of tea and lovely words on the edge of the world. 

Amazon Shopping List: Imperial Golden Monkey Yunnan tea, The Wilderness Journal: 365 Days with the PhilokaliaFolklore Enamel Mug, Folklore Enamel Coffee Pot.

*This post contains affiliate links. Though I will receive a contributor’s copy of this book in future, this review is based on a copy I purchased on my own and shared out of true enjoyment.*

Tea and Book Pairing: A Hearty Introduction to a Beloved Saint

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Though I first encountered the letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch in my church history classes in college and graduate school, my strongest memory is the summer course I spent painstakingly translating them from the Greek. Alongside the headaches I developed each day from a combination of my dyslexia and unfamiliarity with some verb tenses, I recall the sweet relief of familiar words. When St. Ignatius mentioned the common language of faith, I could put my slow barbarian mouth around the words at last. It’s that experience that made me treasure the continuity between the New Testament scriptures and the prayers of the Church and the ideas in St. Ignatius’ letters.

Perhaps because it was so hard won, my understanding of the letters as representing continuity with tradition is the standard I take into any writings about the letters. In many ways, Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick’s book Bearing God: The Life and Works of St. Ignatius of Antioch the God-Bearer did not disappoint. Especially for Christians unfamiliar with the saint and those trained in thought traditions that value contrasts as teaching points, this book offers a solid grounding in the context and basic meanings of the letters. Fr. Andrew does a great job in pointing out the continuity between the practices in the letters and present day Orthodox Christian worship. Though he does not spend a great deal of time explaining pietas — the religion-drenched culture of the Roman Empire at the time — beyond inviting readers to think of it along the lines of patriotism, he draws a great many helpful connections between the life of St. Ignatius, his letters, and the Christian scriptural language that will be familiar to most of his readers.

The only thing I wish there were more of is an assumption of continuity with St. Ignatius’ own received tradition. In a few places, the teaching method of contrast actually obscures meaning. For instance, early Christian martyrs did not understand themselves in opposition to the earlier Maccabean martyrs, but as inheritors of the same courageous faith in the same God (though the Christians saw themselves as recipients of a fuller revelation of God’s nature). That sort of attention to the details of continuity help the reader of the letters to avoid modern pitfalls, such as that of assuming that cowering fear in the face of public death is a certainty. It wasn’t a certainty to the early martyrs or the Maccabean martyrs. While Fr. Andrew points to the courage and does not at all fall into the modern assumptions about suffering, it might have helped his point along to point out some of these continuous traditions.

“I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ.” Letter to the Romans, Section 4.

In the most iconic passage of the letters – literally rendered in icons of St. Ignatius between two devouring lions – more attention to the continuity of St. Ignatius’ language with the tradition of typology would have taken Fr. Andrew’s explanation from encouraging to sublime. While I have no objection to the direction that Fr. Andrew takes in his well-versed section on the Eucharist, the corrective lessons he draws out for modern Christians leave out one glorious truth that can only be accessed through a turn to Ignatius’ own received tradition.

The early Christians loved patterns as ways to understand the way God’s revelation for our salvation. This love of patterns, or typology, was already traditional by the time of the Apostle Paul’s letters, where we see, for instance, the reference to Christ as the rock that followed the Hebrews through the desert in their exodus from Egypt. It’s also the key to the summarily beautiful passage in St. Ignatius’ Letter to the Romans. Here is what his listeners would have heard:

  1. Genesis 1:11 (OSB) Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth the herb of grass, bearing seed according to its kind and likeness.”
  2. John 12:24 (OSB) Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.
  3. The feeding of the five thousand from the multiplication of already baked bread.
  4. I Corinthians 5 Christ as the Passover
  5. The Lord’s Supper, where He called the bread His own body.

If we assume – as I believe we should- that St. Ignatius was continuing the line of received typological tradition and adding to it to show us a truth about martyrdom, here’s what he’s saying: Just as God made the plants to bear seed after their kind, and each plant bears many more seeds like the one from which it grew, and just as the Lord said that He would bring forth many more members after His death, and just as the Lord was able to multiple the wheat even after it had been baked into bread, and just as the Lord was even Himself present in the bread, so I will by my martyrdom become the bread of God, strengthening the Church and multiplying the bread of God even after I am eaten.

Martyrdom is the endcap to the seed in Genesis. God creates seeds, grows them, multiplies them even after they are baked, and do not fear! He can even multiply the bread of God after it is eaten.

To go with this sturdy and edifying introduction to St. Ignatius, I have chosen one of the few non-wine drinks available in St. Ignatius’ time and place: chamomile tea. I chose it also because it’s a good tea to drink in the evening with your book group as you study this book. The tea has the fragrance of green apples, and a little tea cupful goes a long way. I like to use whole chamomile flowers in a 2-cup pot. Add one handful of dried flowers to a pot. Steep in almost- boiling water for 5 minutes and serve immediately. It’s also good at room temperature when you notice that you forgot to finish your tea as you were reading.

Amazon Shopping List: organic chamomile flowers (I use these flowers in sensory bins as well as for teas), Bearing God paperback, small teapot and cups set.

I received a free copy of this book in expectation of my honest review.

This post contains affiliate links.