• Guest Contributor

For Times That Are Not Pretty

“It’s not pretty.”  I have heard and said this so many times lately.  The complexity and uncertainty that we live with is taking a toll on us. 

Last week, in a meeting, our leader asked us to put our feet on the ground, close our eyes, turn off our zoom cameras, take three deep breaths.  Then she asked “What do you feel?”  And, I burst into surprising tears.  It was not pretty. 

Racism is not pretty; it never was.  Politics have gotten harder and more ugly, with more consequence.  Division is deeper.  Covid is as strong as ever, isolating and discouraging us.   Teaching and counseling are harder by zoom; we possess less focus and patience.. The sum total of all of these, the strain and stress we are bearing or absorbing, is really not pretty. 

There is an old story about things that are ugly and mistaken (source unknown) that has held me together through many ugly moments, even failure.

There was a calligrapher who came to the Master to finish her training.  It took time; she gathered new skills and experience, new strokes and brushes and ink.  New colors. New confidence.

The day for the final exam arrived.  She was given a large canvas and a text to write, while the Master went away.  Painstakingly, she began her art, one letter and word at a time.  As she was almost finished, and felt happy with the way her canvas looked, her brush accidentally flicked drops of ink across the canvas.  Her heart sank. Before her eyes, she watched black blobs appear across her canvas, over her carefully placed words.  It was ruined.  Tears ran down her face as she contemplated failure.

At the end of the day, the Master returned and surveyed the damaged canvas, the damage.  Then he picked up a brush and added a few strokes to the canvas, transforming one ink splash into a flower, then another into a bee.  The apprentice joined in, creating of another blob a vine, connecting them with color and shape, creating on the text a garden thriving with birds, insects, and flowers.  Finally, they stepped back very pleased, with a work of art before them, made from the errors of the day.

I think of God as an artist, but you can imagine the universe, the energy of life, the arc of justice, the winds of time.  What we make now is imperfect, even deeply flawed.  The Artist pulls it together and makes beauty of it, adding flourishes, blending our efforts with Hers.  It might not be pretty, but it becomes beautiful, appropriate, and finished.

We do our best and along the way it becomes enough.

However today seems, however your efforts come out on paper, in class, on zoom, know that you are not alone and that the finished product will be perfect, perfect enough.  Beautiful and full of hope.

Jan Fuller has been the University Chaplain at Elon since 2011. She is an Episcopal priest and deeply invested in helping students to find their own spiritual paths while interacting with others in differing paths with appreciation and respect.Raised in Beirut Lebanon for the first half of her life, Jan is the daughter of Southern Baptist missionaries to the Arab peoples of the Middle East. Jan’s education includes a Doctor of Ministry from Wesley Theological Seminary,a Master of Divinity from Yale Divinity School, and a B.A. in English and French from Hollins University. Jan describes herself as a “war-zone survivor,” who retains a sense of humor and love of gentleness. She loves Arab art and food, and all kinds of music. She intends to find the gift in every day and to live her life as a way of giving thanks.

Contact: jfuller3@elon.edu

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