The humble glory of teacups

Tea is a wonderful thing. On the rare occasions when I slow down enough to savour the ritual of its making and sipping, tea seems able to touch one’s soul. Its murky fluidity speaks of something simple and dependable; its familiarity, of something constant and life-giving.

The teacup is also a wonderful thing - although even less frequently do I stop to consider its wonder. It seems so unimportant. A mere utensil for the thing I long for. But the teacup is, perhaps, even more wonderful than the liquid it holds. This beautifully fragile vessel, ever hospitable, while ever retaining its own shape, is the holder of this life-giving flow.

The neglected teacup provides hints at how to solve the riddle of relationships. Relationships are murky, tricky things, whether they be with partners or parents, friends of colleagues, family or strangers. Like the tea we thirst for, we find ourselves longing for the moment our relationships touch our souls. And we are frequently disappointed when, all too often, they leave us feeling empty, alone and used.

We must learn to cherish the teacup. No, it may not have the bulk or bravado of the now-more-popular mug. It may not be as strong. It may not fit into the cupboard so neatly, or even belong there with the rest of the receptacles. It may not be able to hold as much tea as others. Nevertheless, its beauty is found in its own unique patterns, shape, and even its fragility, cracks and chips. These may suggest times when it was neglected, used or abused. But they now demand care and gentle honouring of the cup that survived and still holds tea today. These make our teacup humbly glorious, whether full or empty, alone or held.

Such self-honouring solidifies our shape. The teacup can let the tea in and retain itself. It does not dissolve, leaving a big, wet mess. It does not expand and expand like a balloon as the pourer, ever thirsty for more, continues to pour and pour until the whole bloated thing bursts. No. The humble glory of the teacup will hold its shape and provide the boundaries for the tea allowed within. These limits let us taste and cherish what is, rather than wish for more.

At the same time, the teacup is wide open. Even a clumsy teapot can pour successfully. There is no lid. There is no awkward, narrow entrance so that only a trickle is allowed at a time. The teacup bravely ventures again and again to receive with trust. The tea also finds no bewildering, constraining shape it must contort into to remain there. Or a shape that gives so little room that most of it is left in the pot or split down the sides, unaccepted, perhaps lost. The wonder of the teacup is that it lets the tea dwell and be as it is, and so gently comes to know its warmth, sense its unique flavour, and enjoy its presence.

Of course, the teacup will get stained over time. These stains may be the marks of tea lost, tea that burned, or (perish the thought) of coffee. And the stains will flavour the tea it holds today. But they are also the marks and taste of joys known, wisdom learned and a different kind of glory, not pristine untouchability, but the wonder of being stainable.

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