Sunday, July 01, 2007

It is in the firing process

A friend recently wrote that she didn't like what she saw in herself, all the faults and flaws and cracks inside that made her less than lovable, and that she could not see why her husband, or indeed anyone, would love her. So many people I know, including me, have felt that way--and still feel that way. I don't think she'll mind me sharing here what I wrote to her today.

"One of the most beautiful pieces of art I have ever owned (and I own a few) is a raku vase. It is small and ugly to some people because the color is uneven with a dominance of black from kiln fired soot. Within the soot and unevenness is a shimmer of colors, different colors that show differently in differently lights. The vase itself is a solid and simply piece of pottery. What makes it special is the firing process that bakes in the soot and the unevenness, cracks in the glaze, and the elusive shimmer of colors. Without those imperfections, it is just another vase, an ugly vase many would say. To connoisseurs and artists, it is quite simply one of the most ethereally beautiful pieces of art."

The same goes for so many things -- and people -- that others dismiss out of hand because they aren't pretty enough or without flaws. The Grand Canyon is a flaw in the earth, a fault enlarged and gouged deep within towering cliffs of layered colors and dirt, grit, and stone hardened by heat and time into rock with a timeless beauty that can bring some people to their knees in awe. Old Faithful is nothing more than a crack in the earth beneath which pressure mounts until steam and boiling water fountain up into the sky at set intervals. The Himalayas are the result of an island banging into a continent and pushing its rocky innards high so high up into the sky that it is covered over by snow and clouds and absolutely magnificent in its grandeur. A volcano on the island of Akrotiri exploded in ancient times, destroying people and a flowering civilization, preserving the remains in ash and molten rock until the time when someone would uncover its beauty. In the meantime, Akrotiri is a beautiful island with a sheltered bay, the remains of that ancient volcanic explosion, where bright blue Mediterranean waters filled in the wound and provided a home for animals and fish and a place for ships to harbor during storms.

The list of the earth's faults and cracks and flaws is endless and there are always more to be found, like when Mt. St. Helen's erupted, raining ash and fire down on the land around it, and where now the ash has provided rich ground where flowers and plants and food crops flourish in abundance. It is the same everywhere. Faults, cracks, and flaws are arbitrary designations, words that in the grand scheme of things mean nothing. They are labels but they only hurt when we allow them to hurt, when we fail to see that everything has worth. From king to maggot, everything has a use and is useful and everything, even the lowly maggot, is worthy of love . . . if only to another maggot. Eventually the handsome prince who won his princess and became the king will die and his remains will rest in the earth to be devoured by maggots who will turn his flesh and bones and his royal clothing to useful earth that will supply nourishment for crops to sustain the next generation and the generation after that until it is their turn to become nourishment for the generations that follow.

In science, the law is that nothing is lost or destroyed. It merely changes form. Faults and flaws are evidence of change. They are the clay feet of the idol that reminds us that it is only a statue, a representation of the Infinite. They are the lessons of our lives by which we grow in wisdom or turn to pain, but either way they are useful.

The most beautiful diamonds in the world carry flaws (inclusions), some piece of the coal from which they sprang before time, temperature, and pressure changed them. On another world, to another species, the coal is more valuable than the diamond. Even here, coal that provides the means to light and heat our homes is more valuable than diamonds in the cold dark of winter, but we lose sight of the maggots and the coal because we are dazzled by the diamonds. Maybe it's time to look away from the blinding brilliance of the diamond and consider the lump of coal or the wriggling maggot.

That is all. Disperse.

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