Amy Nothrop, Professor of Math & Science, reflects upon the Cambridge tradition of Ladies’ Tea.
John Paul II once wrote that the “deepest desire of the human heart is affirmation” that comes from being known and loved. My husband and I tell our children that we always want them to be truthful with us above all else, because we can only love them as they truly are if they are willing to reveal themselves to us. With God it is the same: He wants us to realize that we are known and loved by Him, but the only way we can experience that is if we are willing to share with Him the deepest secret of who we are, even when we are ashamed of what that looks like.
I have come to know the faculty at Cambridge both as the mother of students at the school and in recent years as a fellow professor, and I have seen in the teachers and staff at Cambridge a similar desire to know and to affirm the goodness in each of the students they teach. In no other event is this sort of discipleship more clearly displayed than in the annual Ladies Tea, when each graduating senior lady is “blessed” by a female faculty member.
As a new mother at the school, I remember being encouraged by other more seasoned mothers to attend this “beautiful event” in which the school celebrates in a uniquely feminine way the young ladies that are about to graduate. The first time I attended a Tea, I sat at the back of a flower bedecked hall at a lovely decorated round table, enjoying little dainties and sipping tea, but most of all taking in impressions of a day given over to expressions of love and joy. I did not know any of the senior ladies that year, and I really did not know the faculty giving the blessings yet either. I vaguely remember Prof. Rico—Gudde at the time—reading a poem she had composed about the young lady she was blessing, and I wondered at the work, thought, and talent that went into something that was pure gift.
As the mother of a junior lady, I became aware at another level of the tremendous amount of work that goes into making a Ladies Tea. Behind the scenes and starting just after the preceding half day of school, the junior girls gather under the direction of a Cambridge mom and prepare the food for the event. The day of, they arrive early to set up the tea, and during the tea, dressed in simple black and white waiter’s garb, they serve food and drink to all the guests, while other peers share from their talent to provide background music on the piano and violin.
Last year as the mother of a senior, I discovered the connection to family present and past, that the event also invites us to include. Each senior lady invites her female family and friends to sit with her at the tea, and this is an important part of the tradition, the opportunity to call upon the love and support of family and friends. But for me, the really touching part of the event preparation was deciding how to set the table. Each family is invited to bring china from home and to decorate the table themselves. My daughter Anne had received as an inheritance from my mother a set of blue Faustoria. We unboxed and set the table with these beautiful dishes that had belonged to my mother and to her grandmother as well. Now even our ancestors were present to bless Anne and send her on her way.
This year I had the honor of blessing one of the senior ladies. In this role I began by thinking about the young lady that I chose to bless and I sought input from my colleagues. And then at an appointed time, I set aside all the work of being a teacher, a mother, a citizen, and in the silence that ensued, I asked God what word he had for His beloved daughter that I could deliver at the tea. And then I wrote from the thoughts that I have prepared and the inspiration that He provided. The words flow, and I was eager to share them.
“I praise you God for Victoria, Jennifer, Abby, Jasmine, Carly, and Rose are fearfully and wonderfully made.”