Exploring the Symbol of the Cup/Grail

Exploring the Symbol of the Cup/Grail
 Mary H. Reaman, D. Min.


The tradition of painting hard-boiled eggs during springtime pre-dates Christianity. Even the word Easter is said to have to come to us from the Norsemen’s Ostara and the pagan’s Eostre, fertility goddesses credited with brining forth the season of the growing sun and new birth. Multi-colored eggs were also placed in the graves of Egyptians and Greeks as a totem of rebirth. In Scandanavia and Russia clay eggs were put in tombs to ensure life after death. Christians, having adopted the symbol, claim the Easter egg as symbolic of the resurrection of Jesus.

The Eastern Orthodox tradition tells us of a story involving Mary Magdalene. It is said that after the Ascension of Jesus, she journeyed to Rome where she was admitted to the court of Tiberius Caesar because of her high social standing. After describing how poorly Pilate had administered justice at Jesus’ trial, she told Caesar that Jesus had risen from the dead. To help explain His resurrection she picked up an egg from the dinner table. Caesar responded that a human being could no more rise from the dead than the egg in her hand turn red. As Caesar spoke the words, the egg in Mary’s hand turned red… Some believe that this red egg started the Christian tradition of coloring Easter eggs.

Throughout the ages and in many diverse cultures and traditions the egg is a symbol of generation, rebirth, and resurrection. Hildegard of Bingen had a vision of the Universe way back in the 1100’s as a Cosmic Egg!! In the center of her image we can see that she sees a relationship between the moon and the ebb and flow of water. The universe egg is host to many other eggs, possibilities of New Life with fire of the Spirit warming them, incubating them. The directions and winds are depicted as breath blowing in all four directions and the fire of the spirit surrounds the Universe itself. Not bad for a 12th century woman religious. Her vision of a cosmic egg being the container for Life isn’t far from the latest image we have of the beginnings of the Universe.

This map shows the oldest light in our universe, as detected with the greatest precision yet by the Planck Space mission. The ancient light, called the cosmic microwave background, was imprinted on the sky when the universe was 370,000 years old. It shows tiny temperature fluctuations that correspond to regions of slightly different densities, representing the seeds of all future structure [and life]: the stars and galaxies, solar systems, planets, plants, animals, and people of today.

We were born from a Cosmic Egg! This means that regeneration, resurrection and reincarnation are inherent in Nature, in the Cosmos, in Us! This tells us and science affirms that New Life, new forms of life, and new reincarnations are always possible! They’re not only possible, they’re constantly being discovered!

In fact scientists have found no limit, no end, no final number in species or space, whether in the microcosm or macrocosm, of creation. Creation is on-going. Always fertile with new life.

As any parent can attest, when we welcome new life, it changes us. Birth and change, though exciting are also often accompanied by pain, stretching and letting go. We gather here every Sunday to be supported through the pain and discomfort of the birthing process inherent in our journey of becoming so that we might be encouraged to grow and embrace life’s harsh need to change us, while using our power and energy to bring goodness, beauty and new creations to birth. With good support we are more likely to make the changes we know we need to make – even though they may be difficult or require strength and skill we didn’t know we had.

Resurrection is about becoming new! It is not about the resuscitation of an old life, but it is about embracing an entirely new kind of life altogether. Easter invites us to leave the death tombs of our lives, the dead relationships, deadening addictions, old wounds, paralyzing fears, and bad habits for resurrection, for new life, and new growth!

Sometimes we encase ourselves in a protective shell, whether it be off-putting ways, rough edges, or self-image we have and use in order keep people at bay, save ourselves from the fear of intimacy, or to resist embracing the Unknown. If we want to hatch, we have to break through our own self-protection mechanisms (habits, “just who I am,” sense of solidity/unchangeableness,) our shell, so that we can become or grow into a new version of ourselves…the person, people and community we want to be, and know deep down we have the potential to be! We will never learn to fly if we remain, unchanged, unchallenged, unhatched .

Life gives us opportunities to improve, to grow in heart and soul, to let go of the things that hinder us, and/or prevent us from welcoming deeper connections with our inner-life and our relationships. The egg, as a symbol of new birth, reminds us that life has its fair share of phases and stages that require us to retreat, to incubate, and enter the tomb-times when death and letting go must be embraced as part of the cycle of metamorphosis necessary for our own rebirth and resurrection. But we must always remember it is only part of a PROCESS. Death is never the goal or final end. It is always only a part of the larger process of becoming.

To emerge from the egg, from the cocoon, from the tomb is to trust that life is a process, an adventure, a journey to be engaged. To be hatched again, even after being touched by death or loss, is profound statement of faith in Life! It is to acknowledge that as long as we are breathing there is more life to live, more relationships to explore, more growth to be had.

We cycle and recycle through birth, life, death and resurrection again and again throughout our lives, just as the universe has done for millennia. And yet we act surprised when change is immanent or necessary.

How many times do we say or hear, “I’m 50 years old! You expect me to change?” YES! YES! YES! Life insists upon it! Is it difficult? Yes. Does it hurt sometimes? Yes. Is it uncomfortable? You bet.

Every time we embrace change or enter into conscious change (AA, spiritual direction, therapy, pursuing a new hobby/interests) we are embracing our own cosmic capacity to become, to resurrect anew, to enlarge or deepen our capacity for Love, intimacy, and healing/regeneration. Any and all parts of our lives can be remade – if we allow it. If we work with Nature, if we entrust ourselves to the times of entombment, cocooning, darkness and emptying that are a necessary and integral part of the resurrection process, but do not insist on staying there, we find the key to our own growth and becoming.

Like Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Where there is a lotus, there is mud.” New life comes from recognizing that there are times when we have to sink into the darkness, endure the discomfort and pain of letting something die or be released, in order to experience the joy that comes with resurrection.

As C.S. Lewis suggests, we have a choice, to some extent, about whether we embrace or resist the process of resurrection, of hatching. If we resist…If we insist on remaining the same, playing the baby, avoiding change, or the need to grow up – it is in a way a refusal to be hatched. In our refusal to be hatched we can not only go bad, but we can die.

We might be standing up straight and breathing, but we only grow hard and rigid in our refusal to experience life anew. When remain in an embryonic, entombed or protected stage – whether emotional, physical, or spiritual – for too long we become stunted. The gifts that depend on our growth for being discovered remain latent and under-developed. Remember, if a butterfly is helped as it emerges from the chrysalis or cocoon, it will not fly. It’s wings need the struggle to grow strong enough for flight.

If we are serious about embracing life as an adventure then we have to be willing to leave the tombs behind, to leave the safe spaces and comfortable wombs and risk becoming something or someone entirely new. Transformation is the point of life! Undergoing change and embracing or allowing death to do its thing is part of life! Death is part of the journey. PART. Not the whole. But a necessary part to our own and creation’s regeneration.

We have to die to addictions, selfishness, and eventually even to our flesh. Sometimes the deaths we have to embrace involve letting go of those relationships that keep us in our cocoon or in our shell for far too long, leaving those jobs or the work that suppresses our imagination, neglects our gifts, or does not challenge us to develop or cultivate new skills.

If we are to live an engaged life we need to seek those people, relationships and opportunities that inspire us to break out, fuel us to regenerate, and encourage us to grow and change. It is the only way resurrection can happen.

We can resist this process of birth, life, death and resurrection, but life sure seems to flow more easily when we can embrace the reality that all things are in transition. There is an art to learning how to hold onto life and relationships lightly enough to encourage growth but tightly enough to provide stability for new birth. Resurrection, symbolized in the egg, reminds us that everything changes.

Every level of Life, from the subatomic to the cosmic, undergoes the process of birth, life, death and resurrection again and again. We are stars resurrected as human beings! The cells of our skin die and are shed regularly such that we are new beings every 7 years.

Our Universe is an incubator of New Life. WE are incubators of New Life! The invitation of Easter and Spring, the invitation of the egg is to hatch so that we can fly, blossom, and be drawn out of our old selves into Newness and Light.

The egg boldly reminds us that there is no death! Only change. Transition. Metamorphosis. So don’t hold on so tightly to who you think you are, or the realities that “define” your life, for at our core we, and All That Is, are always only becoming. New life and a new way of being are always possible if we are willing to do the difficult work of getting hatched. May TLC always be a place where you are encouraged and supported to get hatched into New Life.


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