There’s a rather unusual museum in my town.
It is a most eclectic, if not weird collection, that challenges and encourages – no – forces – one to think. What does that mean? What was the artist’s state of mind? What is art anyway?
Some displays are confronting, defamatory, even sacrilegious. Others are wonderfully exciting and bold.
There’s a library of white books with no text. There’s an enormous model of a human skull, with flashing lights and wires and circuits inside, all pulsating, like the synapses in the human brain. There’s tunnels, winding walkways and a rabbit-hole glass lift down to a massive natural sandstone wall, formed aeons ago.
Not all of the ‘art’ is to everyone’s taste and as I write this, the museum is staging its annual Dark Winter festival. There’s bonfires and lots of warming food and drink and performances, much of it ‘family-friendly’ I might add. There’s thousands of visitors in town, undeterred by the dark and the cold, clear winter air.
The place is illuminated with red lights: on the bridge and the historic buildings, and on cranes around the city. A man was interred in a box under a busy main street and will ‘arise’ on Sunday after three days. Sound familiar?
This festival certainly has a pagan edge, and while many Christians are offended by the distorted Christian images, it has all got people talking. A bit like Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon at THAT royal wedding. There’s many conversations happening about the meaning of inverted crosses and what Christians believe.
But enough of the dark stuff on show. Possibly my favourite exhibit at this museum is something quite small and insignificant.
Nestled on a piece of rough fabric in a small niche is a small 2 000 year-old clay jar, spilling forth a few dozen small coins. It was quite possibly the secret stash of a Greek or Roman householder, hidden in a wall, or beneath the hearthstone. No savings banks in those days. It is such a simple, domestic object, plain and undecorated. The clay is unfired, probably simply shaped by hand and dried in the baking sun.
A plain, ordinary clay pot containing a small fortune. Sound like something Paul might have mentioned in the bible? In 2 Corinthians Chapter 4 he says that we are jars of clay with the greatest treasure inside.
That is a powerful image.
We are made by the Master Potter – simple, clay vessels, sometimes misshapen, imperfectly formed. Sometimes ‘half-baked’, one might say. Fragile, made from earth and returning to earth when past our use-by date. But we are absolutely ‘fit for purpose’.
The maker’s fingerprints are often to be seen on clay pots. (There’s a rather lovely Old Irish legend that says that a dimple on a cheek is God’s fingerprint, a special blessing.) Some clay vessels were simple oil lamps, shining to dispel the darkness.
We fragile clay pots contain perhaps the greatest treasure of all – God’s love. Our jar can be opened to reveal Christ to others, just as the clay lamp can shine forth to share the light. The treasure needs to be shared, let out, not kept hidden within, sealed inside. Safe.
There’s some moneyboxes that do just that. Made of clay and often beautifully decorated, they have a slot for putting in your spare coins. Some of these intricate pottery jars are large enough to hold a lot of coins. But…
There is no lid, no opening, no bunghole. Money goes in, but money can’t come out. The only way to get at the stash of cash is to break the clay jar. The treasure is safe but worthless. Only by sacrificing the jar can the treasure be released.
CS Lewis says something about this principle.
We are filled with God’s love, but if we keep it locked inside, away from harm, safe from hurt and other people, it will become hard and lifeless and worth nothing.
With all its fragility and imperfection, the small clay jar in the niche has survived for thousands of years, protecting its treasure within, but open and allowing the contents to be released and shared. Imperfectly formed clay vessels that we are, we must be open to sharing our ‘treasure’ particularly in challenging times when so many other folks are seeking some meaning and explanation of life and what they see around them.
Be prepared to open that jar!
Sheelagh Wegman, BA, IPEd Accredited Editor is a freelance editor and writer. She enjoys cooking, sings in the choir of St David’s Cathedral in Hobart and lives in natural bushland on the foothills of Mt Wellington.
Sheelagh Wegman’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/sheelagh-wegman.html