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Pinnacle Presbyterian Church

Echoes Blog

The Beauty in Distortion

Cory Brown vases.jpg

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege to attend my brother’s Masters of Fine Arts Thesis Exhibition. The show was beautiful, inspiring and powerful. For over half of Cory’s life, he has been working with clay. I remember him coming home from his first ceramic class with a beautiful and simple pot. The year before I had taken the same class and my pot looked more like a blob than a vase. Needless to say, he had a gift…I did not. 

So, for the last 15 or so years my family and I have watched his art mature, change, grow and develop. I have loved every minute of it and feel blessed to be a part of it. I even get to showcase a few pieces in my home. I could go on about how proud I am of my brother and his skills, but instead I want to share something he said in his presentation.

Cory has spent the last few years developing a technique where he places hand-colored paper-thin clay flowers, shapes and lines on top of a clay cylinder or tile. He then moves and molds the clay until it creates the vase, bowl, cup, or tile that he was imagining. The challenge of this technique is that the original stripes, flowers or spots change and move in a way that you don’t always expect them to. 

It is a lot like life. We might expect our life to look one specific way all the time. Like myself, you might have plans for your future, thoughts of what your life might look like at one point or another, but more often than not our lives get stretched, challenged, pulled and distorted. Maybe you even feel like you are in that place right now. 

When Cory was describing his work at the gallery exhibit, he talked about the excitement of seeing how a line of color might move. He spoke about the experiment that drove him to see how he could shape and mold color into something beautiful and the challenge that drove him to try new things. 

In our lives, those experiences often feel like the opposite. How often those growing pains are the most difficult challenges that we go through. Sometimes it feels like the grief of losing someone we love hurts beyond what we can even imagine. Too often pain and suffering drive us to seek out any relief. More often than not, a move, challenging parenting moments, aging parents, new jobs and job loss feel like we are being pulled, pushed and molded into something that we didn’t really want to be when we started.

But, and this is a big BUT…those are often the moments that make you the beautiful piece of art that God made you to be. In my brother’s art, it is those swirls, distortions, stretches and twists that bring energy and life into his pieces. In fact, they are my favorite parts of his work. 

I wonder if it is those very difficult moments that create hope in our own lives. Not because those moments are perfect or what we planned on but because it is in those moments that we are required to be fully in the hands of the One who is molding and shaping us. It means that we have to trust that the Maker is watching those parts of our lives and His hands are directly moving us to the place God wants us to go. I pray that wherever God is molding you, you are able to see the beauty of you in these very moments. 

 

Sunrise is an event that calls forth solemn music in the very depths of our nature, as if one’s whole being had to attune itself to the cosmos and praise God for the new day, praise him in the name of all the creatures that ever were or ever will be. I look at the rising sun and feel that now upon me falls the responsibility of seeing what all my ancestors have seen, in the Stone Age and even before it, praising God before me. Whether or not they praised him then, for themselves, they must praise him now in me. When the sun rises each one of us is summoned by the living and the dead to praise God.
~Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, quoted at http://www.plough.com/en/subscriptions/daily-dig/odd/april/daily-dig-for-april-30

I'm a "let's get to work and change things" kinda guy. It shapes my spirituality, and my theology. I love new things, new experiences, new designs, and people with a passion for the future—and a willingness to sacrifice for the future, combining patience with passion. It's about sociality, not nature, for me. So, I've often found folks who talk about finding God in sunsets, or sunrises, or hikes in the woods or walks on the beach, or in repetition and stability and preservation . . . curious. I believe them (you?), but don't really feel what you feel. Now it must be said: I do enjoy sunrises, and sunsets, and woods, and beaches, and singing familiar songs and remembering well. I find beauty there, and am moved. But I tend (tend . . . not exclusively, but mostly) to find "God" in action. Beauty comes in repetition for me. God comes in change: Godly change, that is: positive, dynamic, love-creating, justice-making change (not the change of destruction and loss).

But I also know that mine is one form of the faith. It tends to be the kind of hardwired spirituality that created Protestant faith. But it's not the only way. That other form, the one you might be hardwired for, tends to go to beauty first. It tends to let beauty, remembering, preserving, and celebrating be the way in which change is welcomed—rather than the other way around. And that's the spirituality that has given us traditions more open to art, ritual, and structures designed to preserve things.

We kinda need each other, don't you think? We need to remind each other of the ways God reveals Godself, and balance each other now and then. We need to let God be in the sunrise, reminding us of who we are and who God is and so giving us courage to face a day of following Jesus. And we need to let God be in the work following Jesus gives us to do, which gives us reason to accept the sunrise as a call on our lives to keep open and keep hopeful and keep going toward the future that God imagines. Let the 'sunrise' metaphor apply to other things, too.

The contemplative monk and active writer, Thomas Merton, wrote the quote at the beginning of this post. Merton was well known for his commitment to wedding faith and concern for social change, for the poor, and for creating just communities. Yet he was also a great advocate for connection among all things. His comment here about the sunrise, about beauty and the reassurance it gives is a nice reminder that all things praise God: what is given us that does not change, what reminds us of our connection to all who've seen the same, and in our urgent, humble acts in response.

All good. All God.