On Monday evening I gathered with three others in a basement room of our church. Our task was to take broken pieces of pottery, glass and tile and create something more of it: a mosaic. We have collected these pieces over the days of Lent and held them in worship, infusing them with our prayers. The base of this collection of pieces was a cross with equal-distant arms, four feet by four feet. It is a sturdy, well designed form of strong wood built by one of our treasured members who is a master builder. He had given us a good form to work with and now our job was to figure out how the many pieces laying on the table before us might fit together into something that was more than the sum of its parts.
At first we grouped the pieces by color and design, separating out those pieces that had decorations….flowers, scenes from nature, faces, words. We looked at the bare cross. Where to begin? We started by putting a few pieces in the center trying to create a focal point of starburst-like form. We stood back and looked. No. That wasn’t it.
Then one person began to notice that several of the pieces of broken pottery had butterflies on them. Then we noticed that there were several other pieces with other insects. In another pile were two actual pieces of broken wings that had come off a figurine someone had added to the collection of broken pieces to eventually be used in this mosaic. Then we had it.
Wings! Wings would be the focus. Someone else began to place the wings so they flitted and flew up the cross from one corner to the opposite one creating a flight pattern for all these with wings. Surrounding these flying forms with white shards of pottery made the winged ones jump out from the center of this now evolving piece of art. From there we began to match colors and see the entire piece begin to take form. Questions were asked: “What do you think?” “What if we place this here?” “Does this feel right for this spot?” Answers were shared and the gluing began.
Before the night was over, something that had not existed before had been created. From the broken pieces of people’s kitchens, garages, and basements, something new had come into being. These pieces which had been formed from earth, fired into form and been used in a variety of ways now existed in a new way. Bowls that had held soup, cups that had held coffee, plates that once delivered cake and tiles that had been meant for walls or floors could now be found in this sturdy cross. Broken pieces of glass found on the beach or in a parking lot, some worn with water and wear, now filled an important spot in a color scheme.
This mosaic is yet to have its finishing touches. Grouting will now be added to surround the broken pieces and secure them in this new resting place. I am told there will be surprise in how this addition changes the look of what we have created, shading some pieces and providing the perfect ‘pop’ for others. I love the unknown of it. Like so many creative acts, the creation itself holds its own surprise, its own life.
A favorite hymn of many is ‘Hymn of Promise’ by Natalie Sleeth. The words speak of the hidden promises nestled in Creation and indeed in all of life.
“In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed an apple tree;
in cocoons, a hidden promise, butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be,
unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.”
I was reminded of this hymn as we put together these broken pieces meant for utilitarian tasks rather than art. In our collective creative spirit, we took these shards and made something of them that we could only envision in our imagination. As others gaze upon this mosaic on Easter, they will see things through their own imagination that we had not put there. Hidden within broken pieces, wood and sand, is something more. It is true of all creative acts. Like gardens…and people.
My prayer is that the butterflies that guided us will give wing to the imaginations of all who stop to look at the tiny pieces that have found a new home. And in that looking, their own spirits will take flight.