Pipe Smoking—The Why
“I believe that many who find that ‘nothing happens’ when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.” — C.S. Lewis
In my last post I talked about my ingress into the fantastical world of pipe smoking. In this post, I want to talk about the “why’s,” the reasons I smoke a pipe. And that’s an important distinction. I’m not saying why you should smoke a pipe, I’m only speaking from my experience.
So, why did I start smoking a pipe?
I’m not really sure. Seriously. I just sort of fell into it. I mean, I guess part of it is the “old world” feel about smoking a pipe. I’m a lost romantic in a very unromantic world. I like “old” things—antiques, craftsmanship, clothes1, shaving2, etc.—and pipe smoking fits into a lot of those categories. There’s a quote I use when I give retreats on Celtic Christian Spirituality that goes like this:
Stop at the crossroads and look around. Ask for the ancient way, and walk in it. Travel its path, and you’ll find rest for your souls. ~ Jeremiah 6.16 (NLT; adapted)
I think the same is true when it comes to smoking a pipe. It’s part of an “ancient way.” And just because something is part of an “ancient way” doesn’t mean it should be shunned for the new way.
So, what about now—why do I continue to smoke a pipe?
There’s a quote attributed to Albert Einstein that goes—
“I believe that pipe smoking contributes to a somewhat calm and objective judgement in all human affairs.”
And some of the greatest Christian thinkers smoked a pipe. I’m sure we’re all familiar with C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, both were avid pipe smokers. But there are others, too. Karl Barth, Johann Sebastian Bach, and lesser known Inkling with Lewis and Tolkien, Charles Williams. And I’m sure there were/are many more besides.
Like Einstein mentioned above, smoking a pipe helps me be “somewhat calm and objective.” In other words, it helps me think. Just like holding prayer beads helps me concentrate on my prayers, smoking a pipe—going through the ritual—helps me concentrate on the subject at hand (this blog series, for example). And thinking through something, of turning it over in one’s mind, seeing it from different angles, can help when confronted with a “tough bit,” especially when it comes to theology. Today, it doesn’t seem like too many people just sit and think deeply about things anymore. And that thinking deeply about something, of turning it over and over in one’s mind, is what Lewis is talking about in the quote above. Smoking a pipe helps me do just that.
As I mentioned above, smoking a pipe for me has a lot to do with the ritual of it (we’ll explore this in more depth in another post).3 But let me just say that the ritual of smoking a pipe—the “stuff” that goes before, the actual smoking of the pipe, and the clean up afterwards—is such a moment of “now.” That is, one has to slow down and pay attention. If you’re wanting to hurry, pipe smoking is not for you. Pipe smoking is all about slowing down, of being in the moment.
It also helps me relax. Now I’m a pretty contemplative person but even I get stressed out now and then but following the ritual calms me down and helps me to see things a little differently.
Lastly, and this ties into the “old ways” I mentioned earlier, is the historical connection. When I smoke a pipe I’m part of a community that, for the most part, is helpful and contemplative and deep thinkers.
In our next part, we’ll look at taking that first step into this adventure—finding the right pipe!
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC
1. I wear bow ties to work most days and have a couple fedoras. Not the “traditional” look for an IT Specialist but there you go.
2. The same is true of shaving. I use a vintage double-edge safety razor from the 1960’s and I get the best shaves I’ve ever had. Sometimes the old ways are the best ways.
3. It’s another reason I enjoy shaving with a DE safety razor.