I was 8 years old the first time I finally convinced my dad to share his morning ritual with me.
Every day he would wake, make himself a pot of coffee, pour it into the same clay mug with Tlingit petroglyphs, sit in his brown recliner with the news on the television and read or write until the rest of us woke up. This was his time and space to hold close the cares of his family, work and those around him.
Little did I know that first morning exchange would lead to the creation of my own sacred ritual. As he invited me to pick my coffee cup and poured that little splash of coffee and a whole lot of milk into my short, grey mug with black and white specks, I did not know this would become my daily celebration, my way to connect with those I love, my communion with my saints.
My love of coffee and mugs started young, yes, but I’m beginning to realize it has less to do with the coffee and mugs themselves than the ways in which this sacred ritual has walked with me through my life. These mugs carry memories and pieces of people I love. For a moment in my day, the concepts of space, time and distance are no obstacle. When I hold the gift shop “Grandma” mug my Grandma used every morning, I am able to hold my Grandma’s hand, I am able to hear her call out to me or my brother, “Would you be a gem and make me some coffee?” I will look into the mug and see the coffee stains that tell stories of her rocking in her recliner gossiping with me over the phone or begging my brother to go warm her coffee.
When my brother and I moved to Beijing and shared a home together here, we began sharing this ritual with each other. Each morning we would carefully choose the mug, choose the memories and the stories. In those early hours, we would mimic our Grandma as we drank from her cup, the thrift store find we kept stealing from each other. We would hold our parents close as we drank from the cup painted by my mother, laugh about my brother being stuck in Hong Kong, remember the child I held for hours in Swaziland. Each cup holds something, and now, for me, they offer me something even greater.
In the wake of my brother’s passing, this ritual is my daily communion, it is holy and sacred. These mugs are, for me, the cups of life. They are past, present and future. They are symbols of love, they hold life in the midst of death, and they hold my hand and help me find the strength to walk through the day.
Rev. Hannah Elyse Cornthwaite is pastor at Congregation of the Good Shepherd in Beijing, China and chronicles her experience being a laowai (foreigner) and finding home in China at hcornthwaite.wordpress.com. Hannah is an avid follower of baseball, enjoys traveling and is often found reading or out looking for the quiet, hole-in-the-wall gems of her city. Follow her on Instagram @hcornthwaite.