07. Sea Glass

October 28, 2020Roger W. Lowther

My friends Matt Burns and Paul Nethercott made a beautiful little film called “Finding Beauty in the Rubble,” telling the story of a woman who made art in the midst of the terrible devastation of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. I put a link to the film in the show notes so you can see it too. I’m especially grateful to Nancy Nethercott for her friendship and for answering all my questions as I kept pestering her to learn more about this story!

When the tsunami siren sounded, Hiroko tied her dog, Kai, to a tree and headed for the shelter.

“I’ll be right back,” she said. Kai waved his tail in reply. Hiroko didn’t think there was any danger. Why would she? Her town was protected by 13-foot sea walls. And sirens often went off after earthquakes.

Forty-five minutes later, she watched in horror as the tsunami surged over those walls and tore through her town. Shockwaves rattled the windows from an explosion at the nearby oil refinery. The electricity went out, and the tap water stopped running. Just as the sun was about to set, the wind picked up and snow began to fall. As she shivered under a blanket of darkness, barely able to breathe thinking about her dog, all night long she listened to the howling of the wind.

The next day, as soon as there was enough light, she practically ran back to her house, tripping over debris and getting stuck in the mud along the way. Even from a distance, she could tell her home was completely gone. But as she came closer, she found that Kai still tied to that tree…and alive! He was shivering and soaked to the neck, but he was alive! Can you imagine what he had gone through?

“Oh Kai, I’m so sorry!” she cried, as she hugged and kissed him. From that time on, they were especially inseparable. Every morning, they went for walks together on the beach as they sheltered in the gymnasium of the local high school. One of those mornings, she noticed something sparkling in the sand and stooped to pick it up. It was sea glass. She put some of it in her pocket and carried it back to the cardboard square she called home back at the shelter. With every walk, that collection grew.

In the months ahead, many volunteers came from all over Japan. In fact, from all over the world.

Hiroko said, “The warmheartedness of the people really impacted me. Complete strangers came to help us. Seeing that really touched me.” To show her gratitude, Hiroko made small necklaces from her sea glass collection and gave them as gifts.

Over time, she started making larger objects—window decorations, candle holders, even lampshades. She especially liked how the light turned blue, red, and green as it shined through the sea glass.

“I no longer felt like a person who couldn’t do anything,” she said. “Here was something I could do. Here was a meaningful way I could respond.”

I bought one of Hiroko’s necklaces. In fact, I’m wearing it right now. I wish I could show it to you. It’s interesting to me how its much heavier than you would expect. The piece of glass is a frosty white, and smooth from the friction of the sand and the waves. This one is naturally shaped like an arrowhead, which is why I got it, and is held in place with some very thin silver wires.

Wearing this necklace, I’ve been thinking about sea glass and how it is made. You know, the beauty of sea glass actually forms through being broken. First, quartz sand has to be melted to form the glass and shaped into a drinking glass, bottle, or window. But then, that glass object is broken into lots of sharp jagged pieces. Finally, the sand and the waves make it smooth and pleasant to touch. If we push this image even further, we can think about how light that shines through the sea glass is broken. Hiroko’s window decorations and lampshades actually fill the world with color by breaking the light. They fill the darkness of the room not just with light but with beauty, with broken beauty.

“The beauty of the sea glass actually forms through being broken.”

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

I wonder what kind of light this is. Do you think it’s white light? Or do you think it’s more like the colorful light that shines through the broken pieces of sea glass? There are so many images in the Bible of the glory of the Lord being associated with rainbow light, with colorful light. The light of God’s presence shines in our darkness. It shines in our devastation. God comes near and fills our world with beauty and with color when we need it most.

One day, all the sharp and jagged edges of this world will be polished and made smooth and pleasant to the touch. Little by little, God redeems this broken world, transforming it into the beautiful ongoing work of his creation, or should I say re-creation, giving just a little picture of what we have to look forward to in the coming of the new heavens and the new earth.

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