Just a Cup

The Rev’d Morna Simpson, author of  tea and theology, reflects on preparations for ordination. 

 

What does it mean to be a deacon or priest? Where does our time get used and what do we memorialise? This reflection is also based on the idea of salt and light; being in the world but not of it is part of the calling of all Christians…but what about when not being ‘of the world’ takes us so far from the world that we are seen as misunderstood misfits…?

 

 

A cup is only a cup, regardless of what it is made of or holds, surely? Material cannot drastically change something which we understand to have been made in our mutually accepted ‘cup’ form as Plato suggests in his Theory of Forms. Even a cup made of glass, if it has clearly taken on the form of cup with a handle and a wide rim, is not a glass, but is universally known as a cup.

 

There are cups of different colours, shapes and sizes, some might be more correctly termed as mugs, mugs which do not generally team up with a saucer as cups do; yet they so often find themselves posing in the widening ‘cup’ category. It does not seem to matter how much liquid they hold, or indeed what liquid they hold, whether it is hot or cold; regardless of all of that it is still just a cup.

 

Is it always just a cup though? It might be a cup of tea or coffee, or on a good or bad day (very much depending on the circumstance) it could be a cup of hot chocolate. On the odd occasion it might even be a cup of water or wine…or water mixed with wine even water turned into wine.

 

At what point would the regular tea cup become a precious reminder of the cup that Jesus had to bear?

 

At what point in our church history did the humble and well known household item of ‘cup’, the one that Jesus asked God the Father to take away…”yet, not my will but yours be done”; when did that become a ‘chalice’ which people may identify with far less than the good old fashioned tea cup? Who knew that a chalice is also a term for a cannabis smoking pipe? Talk about losing context!

 

I mean if we’re talking about context, real unadulterated context, the last supper was a meal with friends. It began with Jesus washing the feet of his friends, properly washing them as an act of loving service. The meal was then punctuated with bread which represented Jesus’ ‘body broken’ at the beginning and wine or ‘blood shed’ at the end. Then Jesus told them to do this in remembrance of him.

 

But which bit? How much of this has just got lost over time? Did Jesus really mean for us to take out two components from that whole meal and focus solely on those? Are we right to ignore the foot washing as loving service for 364 days of the year and only wheel out the bowls of warm water and towels for Maundy Thursday when for one day of the year we honour that meal fully?

 

And so we focus on the cup, but I am not convinced that we understand that cup of wine, the cup that Jesus drank, significantly enough as transformative. How can it be just a cup when it led Jesus to the cross to die that we might live? That is the cup of wine which in the words of George Herbert “my God tastes as blood, but I as wine”. It is surely never ‘just a cup’ is it, even if that’s all we have….

 

cup
image by Morna Simpson

A Moment of Curious Holiness

Two poems, ‘This is My Body,’ and ‘Gifted,’ by Cat Connolly, with a reflection on playfully tracing lines between God and humanity through words. 

Illustration: ‘Wings’ by Matthew Colclough

 

My understanding of what it means to be artistic has been stretched in the last couple of years. For a long time I inwardly mourned my own lack of ability when it comes to painting, drawing, crafting, and all related subjects.

 

However, I was prompted a while ago to start writing, and to think of writing as being an art form. Perhaps this is obvious to some. For me it was bizarrely revolutionary.

 

And I love words. I love that emotions and images unique to each person can be conjured as the reader is taken by the hand and linguistically twirled. I love the beauty and flow of language captured on a page. I love the ambiguity and power that can coexist in simple communication.

 

So now, gently encouraged, I write. Not often, not much, and not with the dexterity of an acclaimed wordsmith. But it has become for me a way of being, journaling marbled with prayer and wonder, self-reflection and creativity tentatively combined.

 

It has become something vulnerable, but also bold. A small step of playful bravery. Musings between myself and God. And somehow, this encapsulates the way I have come to think of art.

 

 This is My Body

 

A moment of curious holiness.

Juxtaposition of beauty and brokenness.

As the melody of the Agnus Dei surrounds my soul with calm, the wafer is cracked.

A sharp cut of sound against a softness of voices.

And as we sing to the Lamb, the altar again bears the weight of outpoured love,

fractured

so that each can receive to themselves.

Wonderment surrounds the indwelling of God.

So violently torn asunder,

the broken reaches out and offers restoration

with open,

bleeding,

blessing hands.

 

 

Gifted

 

‘Are those wings?’ you ask, looking over my shoulder.

‘What?’ Caught off guard the question surprises me. Someone asked me that once before, a long time ago. ‘I dream of flying sometimes, but I don’t have wings!’ I laugh.

Your smile is quizzical, as if you don’t quite believe me.

Later, I wonder. What is that other people see? I am quite ordinary and unremarkable. Only the gifted people have wings.

I dream it again that night – the gentle whisper of wind, the graceful dancing beneath the stars, the music carrying my bare feet – only, my feet aren’t on the ground.

When I wake I turn in the mirror. Is that a glimpse, a glimmer of something? But it can’t be, I tell myself. It’s not possible.

Time passes by. I see you again, and now, finally, I ask the question.

‘What makes someone gifted?’

This time your smile is kind. ‘They believe’, you reply.

My favourite place in the world is a roof garden by the river, where fairy lights twinkle in the overhead branches. It is quiet, and peaceful. Eventually I am alone in the twilight. The calm serenity falls like a mist around me and all seems content, full of wonder, perfect.

I take a breath and step out into the evening air.

My wings are beautiful.

 

wings

Madonna Lactans

Alice Watson reflects on Mary, Motherhood, and the mystery of Christ.

  1. What was

bouts

Dieric Bouts, Madonna mit Kind (ca. 1475)

He is eleven days old and we take him to Church. I am broken.  Not yet learnt how to reform, or realised that it might even be possible.  Swallowed up by silence, and doubt, that nothing can make sense any more.

I feed him in the vestry, I’m afraid he’ll fuss, of the looks, the milk that won’t be controlled, how he coughs and splutters and how I don’t really know what to do.  How I don’t really know who I am.  How I don’t really know.  Squished between the discarded decorations and the sign for the fete, I look up and in a dusty old picture I see you.  Did you know what to do, birthing your own Lord, Word made flesh. Your flesh. How you held in your arms a little ball of universe, and sprayed milky stars across his skin.  In chaos and in love.  What trauma did you know too?

He still feeds long after the bell has rung, after the rows of shuffling feet and crossing hands have made it back to their pew.  But the curtain swishes, and the veil is lifted, and the body of Christ (amen)  And the blood of Christ (amen).  How long until the Blood is my blood, and how long until it’s his?  For His blood was once yours, no purification needed, only grace.  So very full of grace.

  1. And is

Hansen

Kate Hansen. 2010. ‘Gladys and Elizabeth’

He is eight months old and I run back from classes to feed him.  Leaving behind the patriarchs, and the evangelists, and the dead German theologians.  There are quite a few of them. I don’t read many women in these early days.  I am tired and I pretend I’m not.  I drink too much coffee.  I keep up.  Sometimes.  Sometimes barely.  I think of you as my hands move around the beads, or as my mind moves around them as I will him to sleep.

At night I whisper the Magnificat to him.  Half promise, half threat, half dream.  Cast the mighty down.  Raise up the lowly.  Did you do the same, night after night, rocking chair revolutionary.  Is that how he became his Mother’s son?

I don’t go to Walsingham.  I stay home and nurse.  I think you’d approve.

  1. And is to come

icon

Icon of the Mother of God of the Inexhaustible cup.

And so this is this.  Time passes, and I am moulded, formed, softened by the love that has flowed through my ducts, toughened by the fire that burns in my veins.  Perhaps not tough enough.  Still.

I learn of loss, of fear and trembling.  I learn of trust and of acceptance.  I learn of laughter and of lament.  And I learn a little something of the mystery, and the wonder of transformation.  Of pain transfigured to strength, scars to art, nights of tears to mornings of joy.  And of the power that can transform blood, to milk, and to blood again.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for all of us who cry, who mourn, who are shamed, cast down, who carry heavy burdens.  And for all those who lift them. Now and at the hour of our deaths.  Amen.