Can coffee have a sacramental effect? Can it be the catalyst for holy conversation? Since I didn't start drinking coffee until recently (nothing religious, just wasn't attracted to it), my former response would have been quizzical, but perhaps that's no longer true. Perhaps coffee and conversation can be a means of grace for our lives? But whether you drink coffee or not, as Sheldon Cooper would point out, serving a hot beverage has its benefits! In any case, I invite you to share in Bruce Epperly's latest postcard from Claremont, wherein he speaks of the spiritual value of conversation over a cup of coffee. No matter the brand!
Postcards from Claremont – 8 –
Coffee and Conversation
I love coffee. For me, coffee is more than just a caffeinated hot drink. It is a ritual not unlike the Japanese tea ceremony. I enjoy the process of making coffee, the smell, the drip, and – of course – the taste and emotional feeling tones of a strong cup of coffee, especially early in the morning or in the middle of the afternoon.
Three mornings each week, I take a long walk and circuitous sunrise walk through the Claremont campuses on my way to Starbucks in the village. I usually bring a book and position myself on the Starbucks patio with a good dark cup of coffee and my artisan morning sandwich (egg, turkey bacon, and Gouda, and only 330 calories!). It’s a great way to say hello to the day. I’m inspired and energized and it’s still only 6:00 a.m.! What joy – a good novel or book on process theology – and a cup of good strong coffee!
I have another practice that’s brought joy to my life at Claremont! I have scheduled a coffee break with all of my students. As the saying goes, it seemed like a good idea at a time – that is, before I realized I had thirty graduate and seminary students! – and, as far as I am concerned, it still is a good idea. I have come to realize that these thirty hours with my students more than compensates for the writing I’m not getting done. As the author of twenty two books (with three in the publication stage), I know that I’ll always have time for another book after the semester is over.
I always try to teach in a way that joins care for the subject and care for my students. My courses are student-inspired when I take time to get to know my students and discover their academic, professional, and personal interests. I tell my students each semester, “I put together my syllabus and lecture outlines in my study, all by myself, and then you showed up and now everything’s changed and for the best!”
Getting to know my students over a leisurely cup of coffee or tea is essential to my teaching process. In sharing coffee with my students, we gain an intimacy that carries over to our classroom sessions. The students discover that I truly care for them and in response grow in creativity and participation. I get to know their gifts and concerns and adjust my teaching to bring out the best in my students. As a result of their interests, I expand my reading list and learn new things that bring zest to my classes. Teaching is a spiritual practice that joins intimacy and inspiration and these qualities are enriched by a sense of common cause. As Plato once said, a philosopher without love is dead; the same applies for the relationship of a theological professor and her or his students.
Coffee can be a sacrament, a living and visible symbol of the grace of theological education. If God is omnipresent, then every gathering is holy. Every coffee break can awaken teacher and student alike to God’s creative wisdom flowing through writing, study, and classroom.
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty two books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age. His most recent text is Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith Lectionary and Patheos.com. He is currently serving as Visiting Professor of Process Studies at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Lincoln University. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for lectures, workshops, and retreats.