Reflections on a Tea Kettle
A friend recently connected me with a woman who has written a historical children's book about a teapot, and is looking for editing help. That reminded me of this 2009 post which I wrote for Theology of Desire. Thought I'd share it here, because I still like it.
Let's say that you were shown an old metal teapot. The empirically minded would note that it is made of scuffed metal and has a wooden handle. They could see that it has been used and looks old. If they open it they can see the stain of yesteryear teas, and perhaps even catch it's scent if they dare dip their noses.
All of these things are real and true and give insight about the pot.
An expert on teapots could look at the workmanship and tell more about it. More facts could be collected.
But what happens when you see it, and know it to be your grandmother's?
When you look, you see the dent on the side and it's flame-darkened bottom. You picture it sitting where it always did, on the back of the old gas-burnered stove. You see the black stick-match holder mounted on the wall nearby, and smell a brief sulfurous blast when one is struck.
You remember the cabinet in which a box of Red Rose rests, and the drawer filled with the tiny Wade figurines you played with year after year.
You remember orange pekoe being offered as a treat, and wishing that you actually liked it.
You remember taking grandma's tea-and-dry-toast cure, and wanting just a touch of butter.
You remember the sound of her coming through the swinging door from the dining room, where Jesus' painted eyes followed her as she walked.
You remember how she poured for sorrows and joys, for calming and reviving, for waking up in the morning, and for restlessness at night.
You hear her voice telling the teapot story again; how she received it as a wedding gift some 30, then 40, then 50 years before.
You remember clearing out the house when she died, and having to throw the old pot away...
These memories add more than mere facts to the reality of a simple teapot. The associations and interactions and emotions provide context.
They give the object meaning.
The Enlightenment would have us strip things down to the essential facts, to isolated collections of details theoretically comprising a whole. None of which have meaning, only existence.
In the enlightened view, the teapot means teapot. There is nothing more. Just the facts.
In Thomas Howard's view, the teapot means comfort, and contentment and safety. It means stick matches and squeaky doors. It means pillowy hugs and powdery old lady scents. The teapot means grandmother, and love.
Going beyond that, it means the technological evolution of man; the forging of metals and hewing of wood for our purposes. It means the alchemy of molecular change and the ritual of seed, seedling, sapling and tree. It means the interaction of man and nature and God.
What if we could see all the interconnections of things all around us? What if we could see them stretching out like spider webs dew-sparkling in the early sunshine? What if we could see the beauty and the wonder and the majesty behind the exterior of every single thing?
I can only imagine...