Fellow Passengers: This week’s Pastoral Passage* (Revelation 22:1-5) transports me to a tea shop I visited in Beijing several years ago, where I saw more varieties of tea than I had ever imagined existed. The shop treated each customer to a full service tea party, allowing us to sample many of the teas before we made our purchases. We also learned some of the history of tea; as the story goes, 5000 years ago the legendary emperor of China, Shen Nong (The Divine Farmer) was boiling water when a few leaves blew off a tree into the water, and he found the result to be quite amenable as he drank the world’s first cup of tea. Legend has it that Shen Nong was an expert botanist and introduced China not only to tea, but to agriculture and herbal medicine. The Chinese people can point out the particular tea that will help ameliorate virtually any illness or ailment. The good doctors of Colorado can thank Shen Nong for first discovering the medicinal value of marijuana.
Reading the book of Revelation can lead you to wonder which of the medicinal herbs was helping provide John with his fantastic visions and anime style imagery. Dragons and beasts and flying horses all engage in wild battles, ultimately bringing victory to the Lamb that was Slain and those faithful followers who have maintained resistance to the empire throughout fierce persecution. At the end of the vision quest John mellows out, and provides one of the most beautiful scenes in all of scripture. A great river, crystal clear, flows down the middle of the city street. On each bank of the river grows the tree of life, bearing a dozen varieties of fruit, bearing every month. And the leaves of the tree, like those leaves that first blew into Shen Nong’s water, are for the healing of the nations. Throughout the book of Revelation, as throughout the Hebrew scriptures and New Testament, “the nations” is a code-language phrase for those outside the faith, the estranged and alienated “other,” the threatening enemy, the cursed imperial world. And here, at the end of the story, we see that the river of life flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb reaches all the nations, and the medicinal herbs from the tree of life serve to heal the nations. No longer, the visionary says, will there be any curse. It’s the fulfillment of the old Christmas carol claim – he comes to make his blessing flow far as the curse is found.
I started listening to one of Kim’s books on tape recently – Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace, One School at a Time. While the book has provoked a good deal of controversy over some of the claims author Greg Mortenson makes, it is a fascinating story nonetheless. The author, a mountain-climber who got lost on a trek to climb K2 in the Kashmir mountains, wound up being rescued and nursed back to health by the Balti people in a remote Pakistani village. The title of the book comes from a Balti proverb: The first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time you take tea, you are an honored guest. The third time you share a cup of tea, you become family. Mortenson was so moved by his near-death experience and the care given by his rescuers that he started a humanitarian effort building schools for the Balti children. Given the curse of violence and poverty plaguing these children and the people of Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan, we can hope and pray for the day when the wisdom of Shen Nong and John’s revelation and Joy to the World are tried out by the defense strategists and diplomatic corps, when we can learn to recognize the healing power of those leaves, when we can drink three cups of tea with the estranged and alienated nations that curse and threaten us. As a good southerner, I’ll take mine iced and sweet, with a twist of lemon.
How about you? Where does this Pastoral Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Google+, Facebook, Twitter, etc.