What is it about a cup of coffee that speaks so loudly, so vibrantly to me? Is the fragrance that engulfs me before I even get the hot cup in my hands? It is the very smell that wakes me up and causes me to long for a cup of the hot comfort.
Is it the warmth on my hands when my hands are cold as they are today with the last lingering strains of the winter symphony singing out with falling snow and blowing wind? The warmth of a cup, filled with fragrant coffee can warm even the coldest hands and perhaps even the coldest heart.
Is it the deep, dark, bitter that spills across my tongue with the first sip, waking my tastebuds and offering me a chance at boldness in that moment? I used to drink coffee with milk in it. After all, that is how my father drank it and he was the one that started me drinking coffee at the tender young age of three. Each morning, he would challenge me. Between the two of us, whoever finished eating their eggs first got the first cup of coffee. I did not like eggs then, but I really like the warm, sweet, creamed “coffee” that my mother would pour for me when I finished eating my eggs first. Now, older than either of my parents were during the time of the great coffee races, I much prefer rich, dark, boldness in a mug.
Or is it because coffee is a gift of the earth, bathed in rain and sun and fresh air and nourished from the dirt below our feet? Is it because coffee is a gift of difficult, determined labor or thoughtful roasting and blending and grinding of beans? Is it because it is a gift of hospitality and time, of conversation and attention, of inspiration and energy? Or is it all of these combined into one? Whatever it is, for me, coffee is a gift from God that enriches my soul, connects me to the earth and the people of the earth, and inspires in me ways to offer gifts as well.
There are so many memories tied to coffee for me. When I lived in Washington, DC there was a coffee shop not far from where I lived called Booeymonger’s. Booeymonger’s offered bagels and coffee and that was pretty much it, as I recall. The bagels were hearty and filling, flavors that I had never encountered before, each one better than the one before and all of them a delight to eat when spread with a healthy portion of cream cheese. What made these bagels extra good was the cinnamon coffee that Booeymonger’s always had freshly brewed. It wasn’t long before Booeymonger’s was a regular Saturday morning occurrence and not long after that discovery that I discovered that Booeymonger’s on Wednesday afternoons was the perfect place to study Ethics. Ethics and cinnamon coffee—what could be better? Sadly, I learned last fall –2021—that Booeymonger’s burned. It was a place of warmth, hospitality, and learning. I was always welcomed to my special table with a hot cup of cinnamon coffee, and I will always be grateful.
Another coffee memory for me comes from years ago when I had the opportunity to spend some time in Kenya. This trip was a life-changing trip for me. It was a time of discovery about the paths that were open to me for my life’s work. I heard God in the midst of this exotic country that I never knew I longed to visit. The voices of the people echoed the voice of the Holy Spirit in song and storytelling, and I realized that I had never felt the presence of the Spirit so deeply. I wanted to capture everything, to experience everything that I could because I knew that when I returned home, there was a possibility of not feeling the Spirit so alive within and all around me.
One day my group went to a coffee farm. We arrived late in the evening and could not see what surrounded us. The next morning– a misty, cool morning—before breakfast, before our first cup of coffee, we climbed the hillside to the middle of the farm. We were surrounded by coffee plants in various stages of ripening. The colors were vibrant, gorgeous reds and greens and even yellows, moist with the mist of the morning. The view took my breath away. It was a beautiful sight and a beautiful prayer. Our journey through the farm and the harvesting center and processing area was something unforgettable, because never had I thought about the work and love and beauty that could go into a single cup of coffee.
When our tour was finished, we gathered in a large dining room for breakfast and of course, for coffee. Receiving our coffee was a ritual. Milk was steamed to just the right temperature to add to the hot, bold, rich coffee whose fragrance met us halfway back from the morning tour. The coffee was blessed and then slowly, milk and coffee were poured together into our cups, and we took the first sip together, at the same time. There are no words to describe the beauty of that moment or the beauty of the flavor of that coffee. Let’s just say if the harmony of love and blessing and hope has a taste, that coffee is what it would taste like!
There are so many other coffee memories for me that I could probably write a book, but the one that is held deepest in my heart is the experience in Germany, a few years ago, when I was lost. I have told this story often because I will never forget it and because it tells how strangers can bond over coffee, even if it is just a moment in the middle of life.
I was traveling by myself, which for the most part, became second nature to me, except when the announcements were made only in German. I had to change trains in Stuttgart in order to arrive in Bremen on time and I knew that there was not much time to get from one platform to another. As I got off the train, I heard an announcement that was in German and since I was trying to get to another platform, I didn’t try to find out what it was about. When I got to the platform, there was no train. The time for the train came and went, but no train appeared, and I began to panic.
Perhaps it was because I was desperate, but I decided to ask the next person I saw if they spoke English. The next person I saw was a young man, who turned out to speak almost flawless English. He found out that the announcement that I ignored would have told me that the platform had been changed. He found out when and where the next train to Bremen could be found and that I would have a two hour wait. Then he said to me: “Perhaps I could offer a cup of coffee to you.” And off he went to buy two cups of steaming, hot, black German coffee.
Over that coffee, I learned that his name is Hakim and that he was a refugee from Algeria. He had been in Germany for a little over a year and had just passed all the steps he needed to be able to be admitted to university and to be settled in Germany. He was so happy and grateful for all the help that he had received in his new country. We laughed at my inability to speak German and to listen for important messages. I told him about West Virginia and of course, he knew “Country Roads!” He had to leave before I did. We said goodbye and when I thanked him again, he told me to pass the help along and to tell his story. And he told me not to move until my train came!
The last few weeks, my heart has been turned to Ukraine and to the violence and pain that has engulfed that part of the world. I pray. Every day I pray for the people of Ukraine, for courage, for hope, for endurance, for a swift end to this war, for peace. I pray for their enemies and for a softening of their enemies’ heart. And then I pray some more.
I want to do more. I want to be in Poland to welcome the refugees fleeing from Ukraine. I want to be in any country in Europe that is welcoming those from the Ukraine who are desperate to feel safe—even in a strange country, even leaving behind family members, homes, and hope. I want to bring them comfort. I want to be a face that offers a smile. I want to offer a voice that helps them if they are lost and alone and scared. I want to echo Hakim’s words to me: “Perhaps I could offer a cup of coffee to you.”
But I can’t.
So, I pray that there is someone offering the gift of hospitality and beauty and warmth to all those fleeing Ukraine and other places that are not safe. I pray that there is someone offering the gift of hospitality and beauty and warmth in a mug of coffee to those who remain in Ukraine, who have stayed to fight and protect, who stayed because they can’t leave, who stayed when there is nothing left. Perhaps the fragrant, bold, warm drink can help them find strength to carry on. I add to my hopes and my prayers that I can offer a cup of coffee to someone where I am and that you can offer a cup of coffee to someone where you are and that people all over the world will offer this gift so others can feel safe and loved and accepted because a rich, bold, hot drink can bring people together.
And, of course, I pray for peace.