Because my book is about an Arthurian hero (who happens to be a woman, but that's not the important part of the story), I've been thinking a lot about the Holy Grail lately. Not the Monty Python version, but the real deal. I've got the sequel in my head in bits and chunks with the connections between them and the first story and the anticipated third and final hanging together in 4-D in my mind, and I'm finding the idea of the Holy Grail taking a core position in the rubric.
I didn't mean to get here, actually. I didn't start by trying to understand the mystery of the Holy Grail. Instead, I was struggling to come up with a metaphor for how religions relate to God (I'm tempted here to adopt the Jewish approach and instead write g-d, acknowledging the full impossibility of containing the true nature of g-d in a single word, "God," but although I agree with the reasoning behind writing g-d, it feels a tad too pretentious since I am not, in fact, Jewish.)
This is the metaphor that is sticking with me, and I am certain it is not an original construct of my own. Unfortunately I don't recall where I first came across it, but if any readers can point me to a source of something similar, I would be very grateful. It seems to me to work like this: Think of God as water, all the water in the universe. It is a necessary ingredient for life. It is everywhere, visible and invisible. Our own planet is awash with it, our very bodies sloppy full of it. If we are cut off from it we die. Think of every ocean, every lake, every stream, aquifer, cloud, and vapor. Every icy comet. Every molecule of these two fundamental elements, linked up to support life.
Now imagine a cup. Fill that cup with water. The cup is religion--any religion. It helps us to interact with the water, to drink the water, to hold the water. The water appears to take the shape of the cup and fill it perfectly. It does this with every single cup.
You could look at the cup of water you hold and say, "This is all there is to know about water. Look, the water perfectly fits this cup. My cup is the True Cup." And you would be completely wrong. You would be confusing the cup with the water. You would be assigning boundaries and limitations to the water that are actually only the properties of your cup. You would be denying the nature of the water, that every other living thing drinks it as well as you do, without benefit of your cup. There are many cups, all of which serve their purpose of giving people the opportunity to drink the water. But there are also those kneel beside the stream and drink with their cupped hands. The water nourishes them just as well.
And in thinking through this, it seems that the Holy Grail is that vessel that is the universal cup, it is the container of water that has no shape, no limit, no top or bottom. It is the cup that cannot be written down or stored in a jeweled box, that transcends dogma, that is the eternal, unbreakable link between God and our souls. It is the cup that cannot be fought over, because it is never the same as it was.
It is all cups at once, forever.