God and Tea Parties

Downsizing is difficult.
Some things are easy to part with and others are like an amputation.
I just can’t part with my tea set.

I had two things that were part of my life before my dad was killed that I managed to take with me to the orphanage. One was my bible and the other was a tea set, both from Gramma. When I got to the orphanage and surveyed my plight, I realized I must find a place to hide my treasures.

Each child had a wardrobe with a built-in shoe drawer. If you took the shoe drawer totally out of the compartment, there was just enough room to hide treasures. That is where I hid my bible and my tea set during my whole sojourn at the St. Cloud Orphanage.

My bible didn’t make it the whole time. After realizing that Gramma and God were not going to save me, I took that bible and tossed it in the Mississippi River that ran alongside the orphanage.

“I hate you both—Gramma and God! I don‘t ever want to talk to you again!”

That was my first REAL prayer.

I say that to all of you who are disturbed I would let something negative come out of my mouth to God: I call it real because there was no pretense, no worry about being punished. It was me and pure feeling, and I know God got it even if many who know me today would not.

To be fair, Gramma didn’t know where my siblings and I were! Gramma was in Iowa. We were in Illinois and we moved to Minnesota. I was in my twenties when I found her which is another whole story in itself.

Today, I held the yellow cup from my tea set.

The tea set has come to symbolize my prayer life with God. This is an odd statement because I neither call what I do “prayer” nor the one to whom this “prayer” is directed, “God.”*

The tea set is not complete. Originally, it contained four cups, four saucers, four dessert plates, a teapot, sugar and creamer. Over the years and the many places I’ve been, a cup would break; the teapot was lost in one of countless moves. BUT! The tea set has been with me in every important step I’ve taken in my life. It went with me to the orphanage, to the convent, in my marriage; I held the cups tightly during my divorce. I set them out again when new love became part of my life.

I don’t remember what Gramma’s tea parties were like. I only remember that I had a total sense of peace, safety, of feeling loved. I don’t think we talked much at those tea parties but just being with her was the most important part of the whole experience.

Somewhere along the line, I realized that my connection to Gramma was also my connection to God. I decided that I didn’t like the male name for God. Yet, I couldn’t bring myself to call this “person” Goddess, either. In my familiar way with this person, “hey You” didn’t work unless I was mad, which I often have been! So, I’d just think really hard…think of those teacups and saucers and remember…remember how it was with Gramma.

It’s funny, but each of the cups and saucers was a different color. I could choose one and it spoke for me…pink when I felt loving, blue when I was sad, yellow when I was happy, green when I was at peace. The mere thought of any missing and broken took care of my angry feelings. I think some spiritual directors might even say I was centering. Doesn’t matter what they call it. I can’t give you my formula. This person that many call “God” comes to me, or I become part of it, when I think of colors. Colors have become my way of telling this person what is going on, how I feel about things in general…how I feel about things in particular.

I let this person, who is color for me, reach out and hold me. I allow that this person can hide from me. Often I can’t find the color. So, I sit and wait, or I stand up and holler. “Where are you?” “ARE you?” “Why have you left me and why do you tease me with doubt?” Prayers that are written down may be fine for some. Maybe they are a way of priming the pump, getting people to pray on their own. For me, I’ve got to do it my way. I’ll hold my teacups in my hands or in my mind AND remember. Then I speak my own colors in silence. For me, this is honest because I cannot speak another’s words from my heart.

After all, who reads someone else’s script to tell the beloved, “I love you”?

*To the reader: Please do not be confused. Yes, as a pastor, as an oblate, as a mother and teacher I did, and do, “pray” all our prescribed prayers. My doctorate is even on the psalms. However, for me the real connection I have with the Divine is outside words other people write. As an instructor in a seminary, I encourage my students to write their own love songs.

Pat Pickett, OblSB

Photo: A teapot and set of mugs created by Sister Dennis Frandrup, taken by Elizabeth Roberts