Spiritual Friendship, Tea, Kites, and the Faithful Imagination
Reflections on friendship and the C.S. Lewis & Friends Colloquium by Jennifer Woodruff Tait
When I was in graduate school, I learned from a good friend how to drink tea: hot tea, looseleaf, brewed on the spot in a cozy tearoom, preferably accompanied with delicious baked goods. My friend and I spent hours visiting such tea rooms together or using an electric tea kettle to brew a tasty cuppa in our apartments, while counseling each other through both difficult times and joys. Later, I married into a family of British people for whom the response to good news or bad, happy days or sad ones is: “Would you like a cup of tea?” And when my husband and I were employed at a Christian college, we took time every month to invite students over for Christian mentoring, baked goods, homemade grape juice - and tea.
While I’ve also formed spiritual friendships over coffee and other beverages, tea is surprisingly central to my own experience of spiritual friendship - which I’ve been contemplating quite a bit recently due to our just-published issue of Christian History magazine on the subject.
Editing that issue, I also thought about how my growth in discipleship has been profoundly impacted by the writings of those British literary friends (and fellow tea drinkers) I sometimes jokingly call, “C. S. Lewis and the Usual Suspects.” They are the seven authors we featured in our issue 113, Seven Literary Sages, and again in our recent Advent devotional, The Grand Miracle: Lewis, Tolkien, Sayers, Williams, Barfield, Chesterton, and MacDonald. There’s a bit about them in issue #132, too.
One of my favorite gatherings devoted to the study of these authors - a gathering of spiritual friends as well as a gathering about spiritual friends - is the Frances White Ewbank C. S. Lewis & Friends Colloquium at Taylor University. Dr. Ewbank (1916-2013), whom you can read about if you follow that link, was a spiritual friend to my mother when my mother was a college student and Dr. Ewbank was her English professor. She nurtured in my mother a love of literature as an expression of Christian faith. She did that for a lot of people, quite frequently by introducing them to the writings of the “seven literary sages,” and Taylor eventually created this gathering in her honor 22 years ago. (My mom and I went to the very first one.) It continues in Dr. Ewbank’s memory today.
The colloquium brings together all kinds of people - from world-famous scholars and popular authors to elementary-school-age kids, including my own. There are plenary sessions and academic paper presentations, poetry and drama readings, meals and singalongs, and, yes, tea and kite-flying. Everyone stays in the Taylor dorms and eats together. The conversation is of the best possible kind of conversation among Christian friends - exploring common interests, learning from each other, and seeking together to find God’s truth. (Also, did I mention tea? And lemon bars. And more tea.) It’s a living expression of Proverbs 27:17, “Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another.” Or, as Lewis once remarked, “Is any pleasure on earth as great as a circle of Christian friends by a good fire?”
Many of the presentations are released in print - you can read older ones here and buy the most recent couple of years’ here (2016) and here (2018). This blog post isn’t an official book review of the latter volume, because I’m in it, but it’s well worth checking out for the academic and personal reflections and the creative work, both poetry and prose.
There’ll be another one of these gatherings coming up soon - you can read more about it in the Spiritual Friendships issue or here. Submit a paper - write a poem - or just come. I will be happy to meet you there for a cup of tea.