In writing this essay my mind flew to years back when Mrs. Sheila Solarin, then teaching us Literature-in-English, asked us to write a poem titled “The Cup”. This was at a time when the subject (Literature-in-English) was considered so boring that most students would rather avoid it. Those who decided to sweat it out with the subject had to endure long and sometimes “boring” Shakespearean, Orwellian and Miltonian works which Madam Sheila loved. Mrs. Solarin (now late) was known among students for her rapt attention to details.

This assignment – writing about the cup – was one we all never forget. However, no one turned out anything meaningful, at least in terms of being satisfactory to Madam. It was years later that I understood the deep metaphoric and rather mystic meaning of the cup.

Have you ever been at a party when the wine is about to be served? What do you notice when the wine is available but without the cup? In the New Testament, the first miracle Jesus did was to convert water to wine at a wedding party. I bet if He had done this miracle for them but they did not have cups, it might not have been better appreciated.

I am trying to show that the cup is an important metaphor describing life in general. In daily conversations, we hear things like half full or half empty. This is a beautiful description of how life itself can often be. It is a matter of perception. It is okay to be half full, showing you have a positive approach to life. On the other hand, some choose to see it as half empty. This is the reality and mystery of life as described by the cup.

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The cup can also mean a symbol of enjoyment and entertainment. Again when Jesus performed His first miracle, He did it at a ball. The party would have been boring but for that miracle. It would have been an embarrassment without the cup. Notice when you visit alcoholics, the mood changes immediately the wine comes in with the cup. Enjoyment cannot start without these.

One’s burdens, troubles, or business can also be described with the metaphor. It is very common to hear “It’s your cup of tea”. Notice that the expression reads “cup of tea” – thus putting the cup first – rather than “tea cup”. The tea must be held in a container for it to be better appreciated on the table. When you hear the statement, “It’s your cup of tea”, you know immediately that your burden is yours, not anyone else’s.  So when the Psalmist cried out: “The Lord is my portion and my cup”, he was talking about his entire life in general, including his burden which he must bear all by himself, not for someone else, but the Lord.

The cup can take the shape of its content. This is why the last sacred act Jesus did in the Bible with His disciples was to administer the Holy Communion with the grail, a special cup, symbolising His blood, a major fulfillment of the prophecy in the Old Testament. It should therefore not surprise any student of the mystery of the symbolic message of the grail or the cup as done by the Christ Himself.

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So, the next time you attend a ball or a cocktail party, take time to observe the cup on the table or in the hand of the drinker. You will notice something strange. Also, notice when you offer a visitor a bottle of wine and not accompanied by a cup. How do you think the visitor will react? The cup can make the difference!