Friday, November 14, 2014


Toward Freedom XXXIV


God, who made the universe and all of its life, looks at people and sees... what? For him, all of time and space are spread out under his gaze and feel.
    One day I was working on a sand sculpture. It was a busy day on the beach, and the place I'd chosen to build was right in the middle of the traffic. The sun was racing to the western sky and I had a sculpture to finish.
    "Are you going to leave that rough place inside there?" a man passing by asked.
    I looked at the place he indicated. "Yes."
    "You should clean that up."
    There was no time for a detailed answer. "It provides contrast. It stays that way." I went back to work.
    "I would have to smooth it out," the man said as he turned and walked away.
    "That's why I'm doing the sculpture, and you're walking," I thought.
    I do understand what he saw. My own training was in the same direction: one flaw in the middle of the almost-perfect shouts its presence. Much has been written about the intentional imperfection left in some craftsmanship. Concentrate on the mistakes, ignore what's right about something.
    Define "perfection," please. While you're thinking about that, I'll tell you about sand sculpture, at least as I practice it.
    The day begins with light, the most basic of requirements. I have to see what I'm doing.
    After light, there are sand and tide. High tide covers the good sand, so I start when the tide is dropping, and this has to happen early enough in the day that there's enough light to finish the sculpture. After I get my equipment to the building site, i spend a couple of hours building a pile of wet sand. The rest of the day goes into designing, carving, polishing, clean-up and base smoothing. When all of that is done I sign it.
    Like light, energy is a limited resource. A sculpture involves all of me: thinking, feeling, moving, and some very heavy lifting. Time and energy spent on one part of the sculpture can't be spent on another part.
    Design is essential. If the shape isn't beautiful, I'm not satisfied. The carving has to bring the design out. Polish removes ambiguities, unless the ambiguity is desired. The clues are subtle and surprising, and sometimes my hand is stayed to leave a happy accident.
    Ideally, sunlight, tide and energy all run out at about the same time, leaving just enough for me to get some photographs. The day's last act is to get home, something like 10 hours after I started.
    In the day's torrent of decisions there is much opportunity for mistakes. A slip of the carving tool, momentary distraction of a pelican flying by, a decision based on one idea that promptly proves to have been suboptimal for the design. In sand there is no taking it back; the mistake becomes part of the design unless it's the occasional fatal one that puts the whole sculpture on the ground.
    What is a "mistake?" Some are clear, written in lumps of sand scattered across the beach. Others are questionable; no sculpture comes out of the design cloud with more than a passing resemblance to the mental image. I can't model all of the details.
    So, the sculpture emerges from that design fog as a process along a winding path with many forks. Decide. Decide now, because the sun isn't waiting.
    Have you figured out what perfection is? Yes? Well, let me make it more complicated. Today's skills enable today's learning, but today's learning enables tomorrow's new skills. Today's sculpture might be perfect, but if I repeated it precisely would it still be perfect? Should I suppress the new learning in order to retain perfection?
    God never changes. "Be perfect, even as your father in heaven is perfect." Fortunately, in Jesus I am perfect. He looks at me and sees not the flaws that everyone else points to, but his Son's perfection wrapped around my shattered soul.
    So, yes, I left the places inside the sculpture rough. Roughness does provide some contrast with the sculpture's smooth exterior. Roughness is also less obvious when it's shaded by the smooth panels outside. This is both a design decision and necessity; if I were to polish every surface equally I'd be here for three days.
    The key is in vision. Finding imperfection is easy. Everything has flaws. If you don't find flaws, change the standards so that flaws become apparent. This happens to all of us. I'd really like to break this habit and see as Jesus sees.

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