Had a nightmare the other night. I had been asked by a dear friend, whose ministry I deeply respect, to preach to his congregation and a group of other ministry leaders. I showed up on the scene, bedraggled and worn down from a hard move to England. There had been no time to prepare for the message, and I usually take 10-15 hours at least for prep time before preaching. But in certain situations I have had to be ready at the moment, without preparation, and God has faithfully come through. In this dream, however, I stood before the congregation and had absolutely nothing. Nothing. I was so spent, so exhausted, so wrung dry that I had no true food and true drink to offer the people of God. I remember stumbling through a few words, hoping some wellspring of life would emerge, but there nothing. So I, the guest preacher, had to take a seat.
I suppose the dread of this kind of scenario lurks in the dark shadows of every minister’s heart.
The truth is, I am indeed spent, exhausted, wrung dry and worn down. I have been this way before. After my 3.5 years of seminary at Beeson, after moving to North Carolina to do student ministry at Gardner-Webb University, after finishing my thesis for Duke’s Th.M. program, and after moving to Birmingham to lead University Christian Fellowship. The most enduring season of exhaustion came after I finished up at Duke, having shoved through the Th.M. in one year while pastoring, rearing a family, and applying to doctoral programs (and repeatedly retaking the GRE).
But this season of preparing to move to England for doctoral work nearly did me in.
The PhD is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life, and I have not even begun the program yet. My mind, body and soul need time to relax and restore. So allow me to write about something mundane and simple right now. Not about Barth or eschatology or pornography or natural disasters. But about brewing a cup of coffee here at my new home in Durham, England.
It helps that I have good coffee. Really good coffee. Stuffed into the 19 pieces of luggage were three 12 oz. bags from Primavera Coffee Roasters. Brett and Brian, the guys behind the magic at Primavera, have a laptop hooked up to their roaster displaying a graph of sorts portraying the desired “roasting profile.” Whenever the temperature settings of the roaster are off a bit, an alarm goes off, a series of urgent beeps like the annoying sound that wakes most of us up in the morning. I have seen Brian leave customers at the coffee bar to bolt to the roaster and make fine-tuned tweaks. So yes, the coffee is good. Really good.
I grind the coffee beans looking out on the “garden,” a term used here in England to refer to a back yard. I am not sure yet if the figurative grass is greener on the other side or not, but the actual grass certainly is. Our new kitchen is very small, but it does have a large window looking out on the garden. So the tight space comes with a wide view. For grinding the beans, I use a standard blade grinder. My wife bought a used one off a postgraduate family now moving back to the States. The piece of equipment is made by Whittards, and the 220 voltage running through the wires here gives that blade way more rpms than the one I have in storage back in the States. I know a burr grinder is more ideal, just unaffordable (and where would I put it in our tiny kitchen?).
The 220v also comes in handy when it comes to heating the water. I need 12 oz of it almost boiling because I use a French press (a “cafetiere” over here), and the voltage drawn by the electric water kettle makes the process fast.
The cafetiere is from Tesco.
The mug has a better story. I got it in the town of Dingle in the Southwest of Ireland during a week-long backpacking trip with my wife along the coast of the Dingle peninsula. The handle has a perfect thumbrest. The weight is perfect. The Celtic designs are perfect (subtle, not souvenir-ish). And its shape holds the heat in the mug… a handy feature since I nurse my coffee slowly over an hour or more. Okay, so I love my mug. Along with my Gospel of John commentaries, it is my “luxury item.”
My watch has a digital timer that is always set at 4 minutes (I love the way it looks when hot water pours over coffee grounds). When the 4 minutes are up, I depress the plunger on the cafetierre and pour it into my adored mug.
And then I take a seat at an old wooden table that I hear used to belong to a well-loved Bishop of Leeds.
Before entering a new season of rigorous ploughing though old texts in old languages, it a sweet luxury to take the time to think and write about these little rituals, to take time to contemplate a simple pleasure. Thanks for joining in with me. If you are having a cup of coffee with me, then cheers….
[And just to bring some surrounding background reality to the seemingly perfect scene of having a cup of coffee in England, let me just say that I heard weeping in the other room from my 3-year old who just dropped a hunk of playdough into his hot chocolate… cheers.]