Sunday, March 31, 2013

a piece of broken glass

(author's note: I am just completing my online course on creativity and monastic wisdom. One of the recent suggestions related to the scriptural accounts of God offering new names to people who responded to His call, e.g. Abram became Abraham. In brief, we were to take a contemplative walk, find a white stone and, if we felt so called, write upon it the new name we were given. The following is what occurred for me in response to this suggestion.) 

The weather was chilly and I knew I wouldn't want to remain outside long. It seemed wasteful of time and fuel to drive to a cold, windy beach or river bank just to find a stone. So I decided to bundle up and go for a walk in my urban neighborhood. "It is an unlikely place to find a smooth white stone", I conceded mentally, "but perhaps God will provide one for me."

I walked down the street as ponderously as I could in the brisk wind, heading toward the bridge. My street is a busy four lane route into downtown Cleveland and, at one point, becomes the uppermost layer of a confluence of freeways. As I walked, I scanned the sidewalk for some sign of a flat stone upon which I could envision myself painting.

The sidewalk over the bridge had most likely never been swept since it was replaced during a construction project several years ago. It contained much debris: cigarette butts, bottle caps, scraps of cellophane and plastic, all likely tossed from car windows or dropped carelessly by walkers like myself. There were many tiny stones of unknown origin as well as decaying bits of old leaves and seeds that might be best described as dirt. All of this - but no stones of the type I needed.

I continued my sojourn. "Just a bit further," I thought. "Perhaps God will provide."

And then I saw it. The remains of a broken bottle. It barely caught my eye at first as the bits of broken glass were spread over an area and brushed up against the sidewalk wall. They were half covered with debris, giving the impression that the bottle had been broken long ago. No labels clung to the fragments to tell the story of what the bottle had once been. Just bits of broken glass, coated with dirt and grime. And yet...

There was one piece of glass lying there that seemed just about the right size for my artwork. Its surface was rounded not flat, but there were no cracks or dangerously splintered edges. Could this be my "white stone", the rock that was to bear my new name?

I bent over and carefully picked it up, my hands well-protected in leather gloves. I examined it briefly and, as my mind began conjuring up visions for its future, I carefully slipped it into my coat pocket. I headed back to my house, my quest fulfilled.

Once home, with hand still gloved, I fished the fragment from my pocket, setting it in the kitchen sink. I turned on the hot water, allowing it to get warm and bathe my "stone" while I hung up my coat. From under the sink, I retrieved some dish soap and an old toothbrush. A few suds later and the many layers of dirt were swirling down the drain. Afternoon sun was pouring through my kitchen window and I was delighted to see the piece of glass sparkle. "You were made for something so much more than this," I told it. "You are so beautiful."

Drying it with a soft towel, I cradled my piece of broken glass gently in my bare hand. Still marveling at my treasure, I carried it to my work area and set it carefully on the heavy white paper protecting my desk. One by one, I dropped little splashes of color onto the concave side of my glass fragment, tilting it this way and that, allowing the inks to roll and blend and dry upon its surface.

As it dried, I contemplated my new name. In my heart, I already knew what it was to be.


But Mary stayed outside the tomb weeping. And as she wept, she bent over into the tomb and saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet where the body of Jesus had been.
And they said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken my Lord, and I don’t know where they laid him.” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus. 

Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” She thought it was the gardener and said to him, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.” 

Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni,” which means Teacher. Jesus said to her, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary of Magdala went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.” (John 20: 11-18)

For as long as I can remember, this has been my favorite account of the Resurrection of Jesus. The other disciples had been at the tomb and gone home, but Mary of Magdala remained there, weeping. I can only imagine the depths of her grief. Her mind must have been replaying the horrifying images of his bloodied body hanging lifeless on the cross. So much had He done for her that her love for Him knew no bounds. She had been so lost when she met Him. He had looked at her and saw who she really was, casting out the demons, freeing her from her inner torment. She loved Him and now wanted to properly prepare His body for burial. But someone had stolen the body.

Whenever I hear this Gospel account read, I am with her in her sorrow - until I hear His voice say quite simply, "Mary". In that instant, along with Mary of Magdala, I know and I am known. My spirit leaps with joy for He has spoken to my heart in that single word. As real as His death was - this was even more real. With her, I want to cry out, "I have seen the Lord!" (for indeed, I have). 

John's Gospel tells us that Mary responded to Jesus in Hebrew but it does not tell us what language Jesus had spoken. Because it was her language, I imagine Him speaking to Mary in Hebrew as well.

And so, the ink now dry, I write my new name upon the piece of glass:  מִרְיָם ("Miryam", Hebrew for Mary).


What does all of this mean? Of what possible significance is this little piece of glass on this Easter Day?

It means everything - for its story is the story of what He was done for my soul (and what He does for your soul as well).

Out of love, He comes searching for me. Though I am broken, soiled, cast off and half-buried in the world's debris, He sees me and holds me in His hand. He cleanses my soul, washing from it the layers of grime build up from centuries of sin, (first the world's, then my own). He looks at me with love and somehow sees the beauty of who I was created to be. I am still a piece of broken glass - that cannot be undone - but oh what beauty He has made shine forth from my brokenness! He fills my soul with color. As His light shines through me, it is simply too glorious for words.

Having done all of this, He then speaks to my heart, speaking a word that only He and I will know - a new name that I will bear in His kingdom where death has no more power. As with the other Mary, in the saying of my name, He sets me free that I too might love. And having my heart so changed, I walk with Him through this life of brokenness, seeking out other pieces of glass that lie shattered and lost amidst the world's debris.

Be still and listen, for He speaks your name as well... 

(Blessings to all on this Feast of the Resurrection.)