The cup doesn’t matter.

Perhaps there is a lingering scent of bird wings and honey bees and butterflies about it.  Perhaps the nutty paws of squirrels have left remnants behind.  And there might be the dusky tang of fallen leaves within it, too.  

It is an old, worn, cement-rough bird bath that stands to one side of my front yard.  And throughout the seasons I see a variety of creatures hanging out there – resting, drinking, bathing, refreshing, all sharing it with one another.

All spring and summer, I try to tip it out regularly, spilling its used contents and filling it up again from the hose or watering can.  But come autumn and into winter, I tend to neglect it woefully, letting the sun and wind and rain have their way with it.  But none of this seems to matter to its visitors.

Even cat Tuppence will often balance on its edges, drinking from it.  Dogs stand on tip toes, dipping their tongues in and out, lapping away.  They all blatantly ignore the fresh water bowls placed throughout the house and on porches and paths (where I seem to think animals ought to drink) prefering instead to indulge in the often dark, murky year-round pool of communal participation and left-behinds of the birdbath.

I supose there must be some natural wisdom for this intriguing practice.  Although it may be just the simple act of sharing that’s important.  But I’d like to believe that within its shallow pool – through the unique shared experience of it  – the visiting creatures somehow “taste” the very lives of each other.  Perhaps it even helps create a sort of belonging to one another.

Perhaps they can taste and smell and come to know each other’s current states of being – their contentedness, their sense of freedom, their lightness of heart, along with their vulnerabilities, their fears, their wounds and broken places.  I suspect it may be like when we tell each other we must walk a mile in another’s shoes.  But I wonder how often we actually do that.  How often do we actually invite each other to come along and trade shoes and walk our different paths together?  How often do we take turns drinking from each other’s wells with shared cups?  (And are we inclined to use our good china?  Or something disposable?  Or are we meant to use our bare hands?)

I remember hearing once about an army chaplain who was asked by desperate men fighting a desperate war – on the very front lines, under heavy fire, in trenches that were filled with muck and mud and cold – to bless them and to please give them communion.  But the chaplain had no communion service with him.  And so he used a rusty old drinking cup that he found in his pocket, and water from his canteen.  Because, in the end, it was the intentionality and the shared experience itself that mattered.  Not the cup.  It was all about the sense of belonging to that moment together, belonging to each other and to something greater than themselves.  Not unlike my crusty old birdbath.

Now, at this special time of year, it reminds me of yet another story, from over two thousand years ago.  A story in which we are told that it also didn’t matter very much about the spiffiness of a place where a baby was about to be born.  We remember how the father did his best to get him into a nice comfy inn, and the mother brought along clean clothes and bedding for him.  But, in the end, his head rested on borrowed hay in the corner of an old barn with a bunch of mucky farm animals hanging about and looking on.  I suspect that they, too, might have balanced on tiptoe, and quietly sniffed and sipped and tasted that warm and homely shared experience – a shared experience of belonging to the moment and to each other and to something greater than themselves.

And in those silent moments of sentient belonging … tumble-down barn, tin cup, brown rainwater, and all … there was goodwill and there was peace. 

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”  – Mother Teresa