Black Coffee & the Gospels

“I have measured out my life with coffee spoons,” T.S. Eliot wrote. Mine has been measured with coffee spoons and sugar. Early morning in our family bakery was a weak cup of coffee with several heaping spoonfuls of sugar and a substantial helping of Half & Half. That was the only way I knew to drink the stuff. It makes me cringe to remember how on a trip to Jamaica, when I was served a freshly brewed cup of 100% Blue Mountain coffee, I filled it with sugar and cream till the flavor was all but gone.

Then in 2005 my wife and I took a belated honeymoon in Paris. It was there that I tried black coffee for the first time. Straight espresso. It was revelatory, like drinking the shadowy contours of the earth itself. What was at first bitter gradually burst with complex flavors. We have to learn to drink good coffee and it is the same with the scriptures, we have to learn how to experience them. “Remember that prayer should accompany the reading of Sacred Scripture, so that God and man may talk together,” wrote the Second Vatican Counsel. The scriptures are like black coffee, good black coffee, Kona, Kauai, Blue Mountain, name your favorite. A full body is found there which never leaves us empty, wanting more and becomes richer as our palette expands.

For years I read popular spirituality. Books on mindfulness, self-care, on becoming a more authentic me. There were many useful insights to be sure, perennial truths that we all do well to remember. But in the end I was always left wanting more. So I labeled myself a seeker, and figured it was the purpose of life to search out and find those truths that are so elusive. Sometimes the wisdom we follow is sweet and goes down easy, like a pumpkin spice latte. It is then we must ask ourselves, are we conversing with God or merely chasing our own egos. 

For the scriptures, nearly every promise of joy is balanced by an accompanying struggle. Recall that the very name Israel, means “the one who struggles with God.” The more life becomes about me the more strongly will I rage with indignation when my fragile vision of reality is shattered. The more life becomes about God the more strongly will I fight to overcome myself, to break all preconceptions. 

Yesterday I read these words from Matthew, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mt 10:37-39) For my generation, we have been all about finding ourselves. When what we really need is to lose ourselves and be found by God, the One who is always searching for us. Or, as in the parable of the Prodigal Son, to crawl back in humility to our source. God promised us peace, he never said it would be easy. Christ’s words are often hard to swallow, bitter to the taste. Yet, they endure for a simple reason; every word of them is personal, an intimate communication spoken directly into our heart. 

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