Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Patient restoration

Work can be a joy or a sorrow.

I’ve just had the privilege of watching two young women whose work is obviously a labour of love and so they gave me joy.

In actual fact, they are restoring a beautiful fountain in the courtyard of the Pontifical Biblical Institute here in Rome, but the transformation they have wrought in approximately two months of concentrated effort has made it even lovelier than before. Suddenly the grey pedestal is not a uniform colour, but is a gentle whirl of different shades that makes me want to just stand still and feast my eyes on its harmony of shape and texture. At the top of the pedestal is a large marble dish, no longer white with lime, but in its original pristine beauty.

Around the base are four, dark grey, stone lions with fish-like tails, curled up over their backs. Thanks to the ravages of four hundred years, the beasts had been missing several curls from their manes, whilst the flowing water had gradually worn away their noses. Thanks to the painstaking work of the two girls, the lions have noses once more and their manes flow in undulating curls.

It was fascinating to watch the youngsters. At the same time, I really admire their patience, because the lions are sculpted from soft volcanic rock. With very tiny paintbrushes, the girls are going over the whole surface of each creature, filling in tiny holes with some sort of silica preservative material. I would have thought them justified in choosing larger brushes because of the length of time their task will take, but no, with the patience of any saint, the smallest possible brushes are being used… and the result will be exquisite.

These two young girls really made me think as I made my way back to the office. A Jesuit friend of mine is fond of saying that a hobby immediately becomes a burden once I t is given the name of work. Perhaps the restoration of the Biblicum’s fountain is a paid hobby for those who are spending so much of their time and energy on it, but precisely because they are involved in creating and re-creating something that is beautiful, it brings beauty into the lives of others.

When I worked in the Accident and Emergency Unit of a large hospital in central London, there were many days when I left work feeling soiled as a result of some of the things I’d seen and heard. Tragically, some people have lives that are quite sordid and devoid of anything that might fill them with peace and joy. It was on days when there had been a father beaten up by his son, a wife who feigned illness so that she wouldn’t have to return home to her violent husband, a 3 year-old whose father had already broken almost every bone in her body at one time or another, I used to leave work feeling that I needed to be cleansed, to immerse myself in something lovely in order to find the balance once more.

We all need beauty, but to appreciate it, we also need patience. If I want to see an open flower, it doesn’t help if I force open the bud, however gently I might prise open the sepals and petals. I can’t force a caterpillar to become a butterfly. Yet the bud and the caterpillar hold all the potential of the flower and the butterfly.

God works gently with us, using a tiny paintbrush instead of a broom, a chisel instead of a pickaxe (although it might not always feel that way!) Why am I not patient with myself and with others? Why do I expect miracles?

At the start of this New Year, may God open my eyes to see the beauty in the world around me and the patience to nurture it to its full flowering.

God bless,
Sr. Janet