Margaret Silf
Image

It was nearly four centuries ago, in 1625 to be exact, that a Portuguese vessel, the Wanli, sailed from China heading for the Straits of Molucca, off the western coast of what is now Malaysia. The Wanli was carrying a cargo of Ming china, but it never reached its intended destination. It was attacked by a Dutch vessel and sank without a trace, and all its priceless cargo with it.

There, at the bottom of the South China Sea, it remained until in 2003 the wreckage was discovered and brought back to the light of day. The china, of course, had been reduced to thousands of shards and was apparently beyond redemption. An enterprising jeweller, however, came up with the idea of making these shards into beautiful pieces of jewelry: pendants, earrings, brooches and so on. New life from the wreckage. A symbol, surely, of the journey through Lent and Passion Week to Easter.

My own encounter with this story happened unexpectedly—as the best encounters always do—when I was taken by friends to visit a tiny workshop in Kuala Lumpur. There I was to meet a Dutch gentleman and his Portuguese wife (only God could have got that particular synchronicity so right) who were marketing these artifacts. As I drank tea with them, I found myself thinking of how life moves in strange directions to speak its truth, and how long-forgotten sea battles between two warring nations led to this creative venture, master-minded by nationals of those same two nations.

I came away with a pendant that I shall always cherish. It is made from a shard of Ming china recovered from the wreckage of the Wanli. It had lain at the bottom of the South China Sea for almost 400 years, and it speaks to me loud and clear of how God can bring forth something profoundly, stunningly new from our life’s most destructive experiences.

But the connections do not end there. The jeweller had carefully selected the shards so that each piece of jewelry featured a particular motif that reflected its shattered origin. The motif I chose was a lotus flower.

The lotus flower has its own story to tell. The lotus grows from roots embedded deep in the mud of a pond. Slowly and tentatively the first tiny flowers push through and the plant grows steadily up toward the surface of the water, always striving for the light. And there it blossoms. The Chinese recognize this as a parable of how something pure and clean and beautiful can issue forth from the darkness and the mire. They see it as a symbol of how we too can work through our darkest, most painful circumstances to be reborn to something new. Once it breaks the surface, the lotus flower is transformed. It has risen through the mud to reveal its true identity in the glory of the light.

Could such a promise be true for us too? As I roamed around the street markets of Malaysia I discovered another feature of the lotus flower. Buds, full blossoms and seed pods are all simultaneously present on the same plant. For this reason the lotus is also seen as a symbol of an eternal reality in which past, present and future are all held together in harmony and integrity.

As we journey through the darkness of the last days of Lent and the agony of Holy Week toward the hope and light and joy of Easter, my lotus pendant might prove to be a valuable fellow traveller. It has known what it is to be broken by conflict, to be sunk in helplessness at the bottom of an unfathomable ocean and to be left there unregarded and unvalued. But it also knows what it means to be brought back, not to how it once was, but to what, in the artist’s hands, it has the potential to become. It depicts a flower that is rooted in the mud and blossoms in the light. That is not just the way of the lotus; it is the calling of humanity.

When I want to meditate on the mysteries of the passion, death and resurrection, I will take out my pendant and listen again, in silence, to its remarkable story; and I will hear the echoes of a much more remarkable story resonating deep within it: the story of the human journey from the mud to the stars and the story of the One who lovingly gathers us up from the shipwrecks of our lives to the workshop of his grace, where God is making all things new, in the hearts of those who continue, year by year, to strive toward the light of Christ.

Margaret Silf lives in Staffordshire, England. Her latest books are Companions of Christ: Ignatian Spirituality for Everyday Living and The Gift of Prayer.

Comments

Maureen LAMARCHE CND | 3/6/2009 - 6:27pm
Beautiful, simply beautiful...Thank you

Recently in Columns