i did something a little different today. i wrote this post last friday and saved it for today.
today is 9/11, and we all are thrown back into the moments & memories of that horrible, terrifying day 12 years ago. we all, if we are old enough, remember where we were and how we felt. and, i for one, felt great fear of how we, as a nation, would respond to this terrorist attack, in addition to shock, fear, and disbelief. however, in the first few weeks, what i saw was a nation coming together – just appreciating each other and finding common ground, instead of focusing on what divides us. our pain and fear connected us, and the love that we shared was the larger focus, to help us move forward.
however, as time passed, we forgot those first days of unity in the midst of diversity and we began to focus on revenge, vengeance, and anger. we began to live as “us” and “them”, even with people in our own country. of course, we all know that our response to 9/11 broke down into a long war with iraq and afghanistan. and here we are today, on the brink of another possible war, or at the least, military action against the atrocities and violence the syrian people are suffering through. there is no easy answer, but i cannot see how the united states attacking syria will be an answer to the problem, or even the beginning of an answer.
so, while i was feeling all of these things last week, i heard about an opportunity to gather for peace and decided to replace my regular fika time with a peace service as my contribution to standing for the peace process in our current global situation and in memory of 9/11.
as usual, i had not planned where i was going, but i did know that i needed to be in the downtown area. i had heard about a noon “pray for peace in syria” gathering, and i felt compelled to participate. so, after strategically parking in a parking deck, i made my way to trinity episcopal church. now, i’m not a member of an episcopal church, but i’m all for ecumenical gatherings of all faiths. especially when we are united for one common cause… peace. besides, how else are we going to achieve peace than by meeting with each other, accepting our diversities, but relying on our common, human values?
i entered the sanctuary, with images and symbols all around me, and it felt as is should feel. sacred. holy. safe. it was silent until the bells tolled alerting us that the time of meditation would begin. what followed was a a lot of ritual and tradition, of reciting words together and listening to words of wisdom, all of which were very comfortable and familiar to me… it was a moment of awareness for me. i felt present. alone, and yet, surrounded in a loving community of strangers and friends who had gathered for one common cause… peace in syria.
it felt good to connect to a religious tradition for a few minutes, to be surrounded by familiar words and practices. however, i am in a place right now in life where one religious tradition does not do it for me. i need, i want, i feel connected to god, the source, the universe, the mysteries when i am experiencing the traditions, rituals, and words of many traditions… buddhist, christian, native, sufi, jewish, etc. in addition, i feel connected to the great mystery in nature, and with people, when i am alone, meditating, protesting, writing & reading, or even just drinking coffee. right now, in my life, it is more about relationships than denominations or institutions.
anytime that i am truly present, whether i am alone or with people, i am connected to a higher source that, i believe, connects us all. and i believe that a balance of time alone to meditate and simply be, to connect to myself and who i call god (you may say something else, or nothing at all), and time spent with other people is the key to a spiritually balanced life that seeks to live an authentic life and make a difference in the world.
ok. enough of that.
so, filled with the community spirit of praying for peace, i headed out on the streets of asheville to decide where i would have my (somewhat shortened) fika time. i passed this sign on a pole, marked the date in my calendar, and then suddenly, it came to me: dobra tea house. i have seen the outside of the tea house many times, and the eastern-looking exterior has always intrigued me. since studying theology in seminary, i have known that i am deeply drawn to the mystery of eastern religions and lifestyles. i knew that going there would be the perfect transition and continuation of my focus on peace during this day.
i had no expectations this time. in fact, i don’t think i was even really thinking about what it would look like when i entered. i did love the huge open window, though, so i was pleasantly surprised to see lots of round, cafe-sized, wicker-ish tables and chairs right when i walked in the door. there were people there having tea and conversations – it looked like the epitome of fika. there was another working on his computer. and straight ahead of me, i saw a counter-space, with tons of little, tiny bowls with different tea leaves in them. and i mean tons. like 40 or more, i suppose. there were drawers and cabinets behind, places where the tea was stored i suppose. i admit, i don’t know much about tea, so i am totally guessing. i saw a buddha on the wall. funky, asian-inspired lights, pottery, tea pots, tea cups, photos of people from the east, and candles. it was like heaven to my eyes. and to my nose… oh, the smell of the tea. it was like incense. everything was telling me that this was a place that would touch my soul. be still, my bohemian soul.
i approached the counter and talked with the person standing there, telling him i had never been there before and ready to receive to some instructions about the process of this tea experience. i could just tell that, here, i would not just sip tea in a tea cup, i would have an experience. and i was so right. i also explained that i’d be taking photos, if that was okay and that i was doing a blog about different cafes in asheville. he seemed receptive to my idea, and that felt good. he told me to wander around and decide where i would sit, and then he was come and explain everything to me. super friendly, thanks!
he explained that there were three different seating areas = three different atmospheres, and i could pick wherever i wanted to sit. there was the front room, that had the wicker tables & chairs and was open to the outside. then there was the middle space – an indianish inspired red & gold area with little tables and benches in a u-shape. and finally the back area. a space oozing with atmosphere and mystery. it was a dark turquoise blue color with only floor seating, as far as i could tell. pillows, low tables, beads. i so wanted to sit here, but i felt that i’d have a better chance for photos in the middle area. so, i sat myself down in the corner of one of the u’s and pulled out my journal.
the guy came over to explain things to me right after i sat down. here’s how it goes:
- there is a big book with all of their teas in it, arranged by type of tea (black, green, etc.) and land from which it comes (china, india, cambodia, etc.). they also have little snack foods and tea cakes & cookies.
- i could just peruse the book and read about each tea at my leisure in order to decide which tea i wanted to try. – whew. that took a while, as there were so many different teas. but, i knew i wanted black. now… which country?! india!
- once i decided, i was to ring the bell that he bought to me. someone would be right with me after i rang it – and they were. i ordered & then sat back and waited. well, i took pictures, wrote a little, and smiled to myself. this was cafe heaven. it was a sanctuary in and of itself. not the same as the episcopal one, but one in its own way, nevertheless.
- my tea was delivered on a wooden tray with a tea pot and a little cup. simple. organic. beautiful.
- i poured the hot tea into the cup and set my spoon in it (the spoon was a gift i received from a dear australian friend in the mail the day before. i promised i would use it during my fika time. i loooove the spoon. so delicate. so perfect with the tea.).
- then, i simply sat and sipped.
what tea did i order? well it was a black tea from india called assam brahmaputra. the description of the tea in the menu book states that this tea is one that is suitable for drinking before a long journey. i had picked out this tea before i realized that. but when i did, i knew that it was the perfect tea for me. why? i don’t know i just felt it.
dobra tea’s story begins in prague in the late 80s/early 90s, during the fall of communism. tea had been reserved only for the government & military elite, but a few passionate tea lovers began smuggling in rare and exotic teas from china, japan, and india. in 1992, after the fall of communism, a group who called themselves “the society of tea devotees” met and opened the first tea room in prague. the tea room was known “as a shelter, a place for safety, where like minded individuals could gather and taste the world of tea. much success blossomed with Dobrá’s idea and the company began to spread its tea concept to many small towns throughout czech republic, hungary and poland. in 2003 dobrá tea opened its first u.s. tearoom in burlington, vt.” the tea room in asheville opened in 2010 (quoted from the website). what a great story. and history.
i soon realized that time was moving more quickly than i wished, and i needed to leave if i was to make my next appointment. i quickly finished my tea – which went against everything in my coffee/tea/fika nature, and headed to the counter to pay. then, i took one more peek at the back room, just because i could. it was everything i want in a place to just be. it felt just as sacred and holy (in a completely different way, of course) as the big episcopal sanctuary i had visited earlier. i yearned to take off my shoes and sit in one of the dark corners with a book all afternoon. oh, it looked like heaven. my contemplative, introverted self was quietly whispering to me to just breathe & relax… i would be back. today was not the day to stay.
there is no question if i might find time to come back to dobra tea. i have to come back. and i will… even before the 40 days is over. i need to return so that i can slowly enjoy my tea and the atmosphere. i need to return here, just like i need to return to churches, synagogues, nature, pritchard park. i felt inspired here. i felt the holy here. and isn’t that what spirituality is all about? meeting the holy in the midst of the every day… because, that which is spirit, that which is divine and sacred, it is not up there in the clouds or out there somewhere. our journey is not a journey to some place. it is all within. the sacred. the journey. the divine. spirit. we carry it with us. and these holy places remind us of that. they remind us to tap into that spirit, that gut feeling.
today, i found the holy within the prayers of a community of faith in an episcopal church praying for peace in syria. and i also found the holy in the silent moments sipping tea in an eastern-inspired tea house. earlier this week, i encountered the holy in four different men that i met on the streets of asheville. i saw the holy in the beauty of nature surrounding me. and i met the holy in the moments i spent with my wife, my brother, my friends, and my parents.
yes, dobra tea room, you are a beautiful sanctuary that welcomes all pilgrims to rest for a while on their journeys of peace.
* all opinions and thoughts in this post are the author’s, and not necessarily the opinions and thoughts of ashevilleblog.com. *