Stooped amongst a pile of rubble, the man poured over each discarded piece. His collection was intriguing: charred wood, chipped glass, slivers of metal and stone of all shapes and sizes were to be seen. Perhaps more than the pieces of the rubble, what was astounding was the precision and care with which he handled each individual, as though it were a priceless gem. “He must be mad” was the general assumption; it was inconceivable that he would find such value in the discarded, the broken, the ugly. He worked away in silence, arranging, turning, re-aligning the various pieces, as though there was a grand purpose behind their placement. Perplexed, I stood and watched, wondering what it was that he saw in the refuse.
“Do you see it?” His piercing eyes stare intently into my soul. I strain in an attempt to discern what I am meant to be seeing, but still, all that lays before me is a pile of rubble… I shake my head slowly, not sure whether I am blind or he is crazy. What could there possibly be amongst this mess?
He pauses, eyes burning with a passion I could not understand. “Do you want to see?” The invitation is warm, yet there is an urgency within it. I find myself at a loss for words. Do I really think this is worth my time, to entertain his delusions? Perhaps he is a nomad, perhaps he is a sage. Curiosity overcomes me, and I find myself leaning in, stooping down to see from his perspective.
With a voice that was quiet and full of enthusiasm, he began to tell me his tale. He sets about each day, scavenging those places which are abandoned, left in ruins, looking for what he deems to be the perfect piece. As he shows me each of his prize pieces, he tells their tale – tales of old cathedrals, schools, run-down streets, worksites, alleyways and city squares. Intrigued, I cannot help but ask “Why these places? Why do you visit the ruins?”
It was as if he did not even hear what I said, as he continued to tell tale after tale. “Sir, I do not understand -” I try again to interrupt.
“Patience, my child, the story is not yet done.” And on he continued.
After what seemed like endless hours of tales of glory now in ruins, my patience at its end, he finally stopped. “My child, do you yet see?”
Exasperated I replied “There is nothing to see! It is just a pile of rubbish!” I turn and begin to storm away.
“Bethany” – wait, he knows my name? How can this be? I have not told him who I am. “Bethany, my child, do you not see?”
This time, the question pierced my heart, and I knew… each of these pieces were a part of me. Each piece from places I had been, reminders of things I had long forgotten, places and times I wished I could return to, and places I was glad were far behind. My eyes welled with tears, “But why? Why these? Why now?”
He stood, took me by the hand, and led me away from the pile. We walked in silence, my emotions churning as the memories rose and faded, each giving way to the next. I could not understand why he did not say anything, why it seemed we were walking away from what had been his pride and joy. After a while, he stopped. “Now, are you ready to see?”
Raw from the journey, my pride long gone, I whispered humbly “yes, I would like to see”.
He placed his hands on my shoulders, and turned me around. When the sight before me came into focus, I realised we had climbed a hill. As I looked down, I saw the most beautiful picture before me, it was as if it was etched into the countryside. Colours glistened in the sunlight, the richest of purples and greens, blues, reds, and yellows speckled the landscape. Could it be? Surely this was not where we had been standing before. I turned to him, his eyes smiled as he said “this is your trash”.
It was then that I understood. He was not a man of delusions, he was an artist. This masterpiece, my life. The mundane, the extraordinary, the tragic and the wonderful; every moment was accounted for. The picture, though not complete, already something to behold.
“Come” he said, “there is more”. Again, I found myself walking what seemed to be further away from this beautiful scene. I could not comprehend what else there could be; the picture was not complete, but I had seen the canvas. We walked in silence for a while, and then he stopped. This time, we turned together, looking back at where we had come. I gasped, at a loss for words, for suddenly I saw anew. The countryside of before was actually part of the picture, it was not the canvas. This time I could see the picture stretched out as far as the horizon, and yet was incomplete.
At once, I knew. He, the Master Artisan, had been collecting fragments throughout history. Fragments that represented great beauty, and fragments that represented great pain and suffering. Each one, treasured, valued. Each piece was not merely rescued, but redeemed – given a specific purpose, a specific part to play in this grand masterpiece. His design was impeccable. I marvelled at the precision with which each scrap seemed to fit. This was the work of a grand Creator.
That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good. Romans 8:28 (MSG, emphasis mine)
I love this idea of the mosaic. It is a picture made up of fragments, so symbolic of our lives as individuals, and our lives as a collective community. We, as individuals, can see the story of our life outworked into a beautiful piece of art, as God, the master creator, is able to redeem and purpose each moment, each aspect of our lives. We often find it easy to see the hand of God at work in the hard times looking back, but can sometimes grow familiar and miss His working in the good times. Conversely, we can quickly attribute blessing to the hand of God, and despair at the “wasted” sections of our life that we think may lay beyond his redemption. How merciful he is in that he weaves each part of our life into this beautiful masterpiece.
This extends not just in the idea of our lives as individuals, but into our lives as a community. Each one of us is part of a bigger picture, each one of us – with our rough edges and pointy corners – have a specific, purposed place in this grand design. Often we find ourselves alongside those that from the outside seem to be those we would least likely associate with, and yet, we find the beauty and form deep friendships. The beauty of the Kingdom of God is this idea that all are welcome in – those who are broken and hurting, those who are successful and have it all. If this grand masterpiece is to be complete, we must all find our place and come together as he designed.
12-13 You can easily enough see how this kind of thing works by looking no further than your own body. Your body has many parts—limbs, organs, cells—but no matter how many parts you can name, you’re still one body. It’s exactly the same with Christ. By means of his one Spirit, we all said good-bye to our partial and piecemeal lives. We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into a large and integrated life in which he has the final say in everything. (This is what we proclaimed in word and action when we were baptized.) Each of us is now a part of his resurrection body, refreshed and sustained at one fountain—his Spirit—where we all come to drink. The old labels we once used to identify ourselves—labels like Jew or Greek, slave or free—are no longer useful. We need something larger, more comprehensive.
14-18 I want you to think about how all this makes you more significant, not less. A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. It’s all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together. If Foot said, “I’m not elegant like Hand, embellished with rings; I guess I don’t belong to this body,” would that make it so? If Ear said, “I’m not beautiful like Eye, limpid and expressive; I don’t deserve a place on the head,” would you want to remove it from the body? If the body was all eye, how could it hear? If all ear, how could it smell? As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right where he wanted it.
19-24 But I also want you to think about how this keeps your significance from getting blown up into self-importance. For no matter how significant you are, it is only because of what you are a part of. An enormous eye or a gigantic hand wouldn’t be a body, but a monster. What we have is one body with many parts, each its proper size and in its proper place. No part is important on its own. Can you imagine Eye telling Hand, “Get lost; I don’t need you”? Or, Head telling Foot, “You’re fired; your job has been phased out”? As a matter of fact, in practice it works the other way—the “lower” the part, the more basic, and therefore necessary. You can live without an eye, for instance, but not without a stomach. When it’s a part of your own body you are concerned with, it makes no difference whether the part is visible or clothed, higher or lower. You give it dignity and honor just as it is, without comparisons. If anything, you have more concern for the lower parts than the higher. If you had to choose, wouldn’t you prefer good digestion to full-bodied hair?
25-26 The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.
27 You are Christ’s body—that’s who you are! You must never forget this. Only as you accept your part of that body does your “part” mean anything.
1 Corinthians 12:12-27 (MSG)