When Jerry and I were in Nagasaki a few years back, we stayed in the home of our friends Dr. and Mrs. Takahara.
Mrs. Takahara has a degree in tea ceremony. She understands the intricacies of this ancient and very stylized custom (a far cry from our idea of a “tea party”) and has a special room, actually two special rooms, in their home where she teaches and hosts tea ceremonies.
First there is a large closet with shelves for the Matcha (powdered green tea) and the various utensils–tea pots, scoops, bowls, and whisks. This leads into a slightly larger room with tatami floors. A square hole in the wall has a sliding wood-and-paper door which opens onto their garden.
When we asked about the hole–it was too low to be a window and it wasn’t tall enough for a door–Mrs. Takahara explained that it was the special entrance for those coming to participate in a tea ceremony. In order to enter it one has to crawl through on hands and knees. In the old days, when samurai came to tea, which they did to develop the disciplines of harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility, they had to disarm and leave their swords outside.
That was the point. In that room, there are no class distinctions, nothing for show, nothing ostentatious. (Jerry can be seen in the photo above providing me with an illustration for this post.)
I just Googled “samurai” and “tea ceremony” to be sure I had my facts straight. The following is from an interview by Terry Calamito with Michael Ricci, who studied tea ceremony for two years before he qualified to study in Kyoto under the 15th Generation Grand Tea Master of the Urasenke lineage of tea.
There are no distractions inside the teahouse. Michael explains, “You’re sitting on your knees in a very small room for 4 hours in a very intimate atmosphere. The dialogue is stripped down. Everything is designed to keep focus on the moment and to completely forget about the world outside of the teahouse. . .
“The little door, called nijiriguchi, was designed for everybody to bow their heads as they enter the tea room. Shoguns and Samurai might be sitting next to peasants. They would have to take off their swords and leave them outside, bow their heads and humble themselves because inside the tea room everybody is the same.” Nowadays, he says, we take off our rings, jewelry and watches. “Anything that says ‘This is Me’. . .”
This is what I think God means by “humble yourselves.” We are to surrender our power and prestige, our class distinctions, our almighty Self, bow down and crawl into His presence to focus without distraction on His power and prestige, His distinction. And in that attitude, pray.