Brokenness and beauty

Today is my last day of nannying. It’s sort of hard to believe. After five months, I’m pretty used to spending 9-ish hours every weekday in someone else’s house with someone else’s kids, kids I’ve now befriended. I won’t miss changing diapers or dealing with tantrums or cleaning up crazy messes, and I won’t miss my 6:40 alarm or never getting home before 6pm, but I will miss this quirky and lovable family. (Not too badly; I’m still getting birthday party invitations, babysitting jobs, and emergency nanny calls…)

Since I’ve had a busy week (after all, I am still nannying full-time at the moment), I’m reposting something from last year. I wrote it in the aftermath of another period of natural disaster, and it’s been on my mind as I’ve seen pictures and heard stories from Oklahoma.

*          *          *

Breaking the glass (originally posted March 5, 2012)

Stained glass at San Diego Maritime Museum; image available in public domain

My part of the country has been in the news as early-March tornadoes tore across the southern Midwest. I live north of all the storm damage, but parts of southern Indiana—in my diocese—are reeling from the destruction of the storm, and our interim rector is from the Diocese of Kentucky, which is also dealing with storm damage. These storms left trails of death and destruction across states. (For readers interested in helping with disaster relief efforts, there’s some information on the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis’s Facebook page, and the American Red Cross is active in relief efforts).

Facing news like this is always difficult for me. I can drop food or clothing at a donation site, or send a check to ERD. God knows I pray. When it comes down to it, though, I’m faced with a distinct inability to do anything that will make much of a difference. Even if I emptied the measly contents of my checking account, even if I packed up and drove to Henryville to find some way to help, people still lost belongings, homes, and loved ones. I can’t change that. And there will be another disaster to reckon with next month, next week, tomorrow.

Don’t worry: I’m not going to try to tackle the problem of evil in a single blog post. I’ll save that for another day. Lent, though, is a fitting time to think about death, pain, and the bad things that happen. What does it mean to be a Christian in a world where bad things happen?

It’s difficult to be with people in pain, as my priest reminded in her homily yesterday morning. It’s difficult because sometimes things are not okay. Sometimes bad things happen to really great people and there is no silver lining, escape hatch, or happy ending. Sometimes everything shatters, and we have to believe—“hoping against hope” in the word of yesterday’s Romans reading—that God will be there to pick up the pieces, and to put them together into something even more beautiful.

Where I sit in the choir—on the Epistle side, in the chancel (how’s that for fancy Episcopalian vocab?)—when I’m looking straight ahead I’m not looking at the altar, but at the organ, the pulpit, and the West-facing windows. My church building is old, and has some really beautiful stained glass. The jeweled rainbow of glass pieces—cobalt, violet, gold, scarlet—fit together to create light-catching pictures—St. Cecilia with her organ, the Spirit-as-dove descending, flowers and hands and intricate patterns.

Sometimes, things come together at just the right moment. As I sat listening to that homily and letting my gaze wash over the familiar patterns of glass pieces, I thought—the glass has to be broken.

Stained glass, in its un-windowed form, comes in panes like any other glass. It has to be cut—broken—to be leaded into a patterned window like those that dapple my church with rainbow-colored sunlight. In other words, all those magnificent windows are really just shattered glass, masterfully arranged.

Panes of colored glass may seem nice enough as they are (in fact, the “stained glass” in my childhood church consists of nothing more than large squares and rectangles of pastel-tinted glass), but when they’re broken into pieces and soldered together they’re transformed into works of art. This is a violent process—cutting and soldering. The artist, too, experiences the violence. Glass doesn’t cut neatly; it splinters into shards that cut and pierce and burrow into unprotected hands. Lead, the traditional metal for soldering, is poisonous. The creation of stained glass is messy, painful work, but the results are stunning.

There are no platitudes to give those who lost everything in last week’s tornadoes—or to anyone else reeling from loss or disappointment—and it’s hard to imagine anything beautiful rising out of the ruins, out of the ashes. With Abraham, though, I will try to hope against hope for something like stained glass.

Will you join me?

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8 thoughts on “Brokenness and beauty

  1. What do I think? how beautifully written with great maturity and hopefulness in face of stormy destructions. thank you for re -blogging, a great encouragement. thanks, Pat Reineking, Florida.

  2. the last day of September and I thank you for your contribution to Forward Day by Day. I am saving the 28th page to my journal to re-read. Margaret Rose, NY

  3. I am a 76 year old male lifelong Episcopalian and have enjoyed your September commentaries in “Forward Day by Day”. You are wise beyond your years, and my prayer for you is that the angels of God you will protect you from becoming jaded and cynical when you are my age. One of the hardest things (for me, at least) is to remain youthful in thought and optimistic as the years go by. Good luck!

  4. Hello!

    I have started an Episcopalian Bloggers linkup at my blog, TheJonesesBlog.com, and wondered if you were interested in joining. The Episcopalian Bloggers linkup’s purpose is to promote the diversity of Episcopalians by advertising your church membership through a blog badge and blogroll. Having a collection of blogging Episcopalians in one place would be amazing for anyone interested in knowing exactly who Episcopalians are. (Which is to say, they are a diverse group of people.)

    To join the linkup, simple visit the Episcopalian Bloggers page on my blog at http://www.thejonesesblog.com/2013/09/episcopalian-bloggers.html, retrieve the badge code, and add your blog’s information to the linkup. If you have any questions or concern, please contact me. I would love to have you join us!

    Lisa Jones

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