Archeologists sift through the ruins of ancient cultures. They gather shards and fragments (often broken pottery and partial manuscripts), trying to piece together the story of that place and people. I rummage for shards of broken beauty God has preserved in creation, people, and writings. At first, the pieces don’t seem significant. But each shard is collected anyway and placed with others in hope that a picture emerges. As a writer I practice personal and social archeology, unearthing what has been overlooked or undervalued in our lives, and in the stories handed down to us.
Few things are as challenging as seeing and taking notice. But I make the attempt to see what and who is around me, what is in me, and where and who I came from. It’s so easy to miss it all, to live distracted and disconnected from what matters. Seeing—unearthing shards and fragments—involves noticing grand and seemingly immovable things like mountains. It is also taking note of small and fading flowers, quiet people, and subtle emotions. I’ve always perceived the beauty of God’s creation when it is big and bold—the Rocky Mountains, or the giant Sequoias. Now I am learning to see beauty in less obvious things. Birds, lemons, tomato plants, young people, and aging people radiate glory. Even the fertile mud puddle by the local cornfield run radiates glory. Within creation are foretastes of what the Hebrew prophets called “shalom.” Shalom is a complex peace where people, nature, and God are in harmonious connection. When I go out with my camera, I am in search of “glory sightings.” I want my writing to “evoke shalom.”
I refer to shards of “broken beauty” because the beauty is partial, often damaged, and sometimes mixed with ugliness. Yosemite National Park is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. I am ecstatic every time I go. Yet, the beauty is broken. There are cascading waterfalls and carved granite monoliths accompanied by rapidly dying trees, traffic congestion, trash dumpsters, and the odor of sewage. I bring my broken, consumerist self, which adds to the mess. Broken as it is, it is still beauty! And the shards are wonderful to behold. Nature has sunshine and hurricanes. People are kind and cruel. Stories have truth mixed with unfounded, and sometimes bigoted opinions. Even the best writings are not the whole truth about everything. My own story is based on memories that are incomplete and biased. But the broken shards are still beautiful. The brokenness is part of the beauty—like a person who has been scarred by suffering and at the same time polished like a stone.
Recovering my own story is like gathering shards and fragments. It comes back to me in small pieces that at first seem unimportant. My parents’ greenhouse became a metaphor for the countless ways they exposed me to beauty. Memories of failures in pastoral work are shards I didn’t initially want to unearth because they trigger shame. In all this I am also seeing the beauty of God himself, the beauty of being passionately pursued by him. He always has, and always will be faithful to me. I see he has carried me, as Isaiah says, from birth, and will carry me on to old age. As God pursues me, I am tempted to flee the vulnerabilities of this intimacy, seeking refuge in my accomplishments. I sometimes flinch at his extended hand. I brace myself for disappointment. But God keeps coming, moving toward me, interrupting my schemes and demolishing my self-glory projects. He opens my eyes to the many ways he has been present. He offers transformation in the brokenness, for I am a shard. I am broken. I have sharp, defensive edges.
Modern life tends to sever our connection with God’s glory. Technology can distract us from prayerful reflection, unhurried community and compassionate care for people made in his image and refreshing time in creation.
I hope to help you see more— to do some personal archeology, so you can enter more fully into the broken beauty of your own story, the stories of others, and the broken beauty of creation. I hope you will see the Bible as a story of beauty—beauty given, seized as a possession, plagiarized, counterfeited, defaced and ultimately restored in Shalom.