by Steven Norris
For years, I have been fascinated by the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, known as “chanoyu.” Traditionally held in a “chashitsu,” or tea house, one would find minimal furnishings inside — a few mats on the floor and small table on which to prepare the tea. The ceremony highlights the importance of hospitality and might last two or three unhurried hours.
One feature of the tea house that really stood out to me, however, is the entrance. Known as a “nijiriguchi,” it looks like nothing more than a small square opening in the side of the building. Its name literally means “crawling-in door” because guests would have to enter in on their hands and knees.
The symbolism behind this is three fold. First, it marks a clear division between the fast-paced hustle of the world on the outside and the slow, intentional pace of the tea ceremony on the inside. Second, all guests would be forced into a position of humility as they entered the space, entering as equals with no room for pride or ego. Third, the small space meant that samurais were forced to leave their weapons outside as a sword on one’s belt would not fit through the opening.
Without changing any architecture in our churches, the symbolism of such a space may help us imagine the kind of hospitality and community that Jesus envisioned for his followers.
First, we need space in our lives to slow down and be fully present. Too often, we Americans take pride in how much we can cram into a given day. Rarely do we take time to completely turn off the distractions — to-do lists, a full inbox, errands to run, social media to update, news to consume, television, etc. — and just focus on being fully present in a given moment.
Second, we live in a culture that promotes pride and rewards ego. To refer to humility as a virtue seems antiquated and quaint. Our conversations about faith will take on a different character when we acknowledge that the Divine begins and ends in mystery. As we read Scripture together and learn from one another, we begin to see from other perspectives, gain insight from experiences different from our own, and glean from a group’s collective wisdom.
Third, imagine the difference in our spiritual conversations if we surrendered all our weapons at the outset. We all have armor (both literal and metaphorical) that we carry to keep us safe from harm. In doing so, however, it often keeps us from being vulnerable and truly connecting with one another beyond superficial niceties. Choosing to lay it all down might provide enough vulnerability for an interdependent community that better reflects the creative imagination of Jesus.
Finally, saturated in the grace of hospitality, Jesus meets us in such a space and becomes our true host as he did with the disciples in Emmaus. He can then take, bless, break, and give nourishment to us as he forms us in the image of our triune God.