Yes. We were sure.
I have a vivid memory of watching a video in class during high school. The video showed a Native American artist creating a beautiful sand painting. He meticulously poured vibrantly colored sands into intricate patterns. The whole process took him hours. And then, when it was finish, he observed his work for a moment. Then, with a sweep of his arms, he destroyed the whole thing.
I think I actually gasped. No! I thought, You can’t destroy that beautiful painting! But I was missing the point. Sandpaintings are meant to be temporary. They are made for healing purposes, not as an artistic endeavor or something to show off. The act of creating one is holy. To put a true sandpainting on display would be profane.
I recently learned about a Japanese concept called wabi-sabi. In art and philosophy, wabi-sabi values what is impermanent, imperfect, and incomplete. It stands in contrast to Greek ideals of proportion and beauty that have influenced Western society. We have inherited these standards of permanence, perfection, and completeness, but for me, wabi-sabi seems closer to life than Western aesthetics.
I love Heather’s verse about the diamond ring. You see, I’m in that life stage where it seems like everyone I know is getting engaged and married. I can’t log on to Facebook without being blinded by someone’s finger bling. (That’s not a complaint. I love the pictures. Keep ‘em coming.)
But for some time, I have felt that when I do get married, I am not interested in a diamond. I never had a great reason for this and have often been hesitant to say it aloud—after all, one researcher has said that 75% of brides in the U.S. wear a diamond ring, so I would be squarely in the minority
But I felt vindicated recently when I saw a video from the funny video website College Humor. In it, a man interrupts a couple’s proposal to reveal the true history of the diamond engagement ring. Turns out it isn’t the timeless tradition we think it is—rather, diamond rings were popularized through a relentless advertising campaign to benefit the De Beers diamond corporation.
This has been arguably the most successful marketing effort in American history. In 2012, Americans spent $7 billion on diamond rings. In the 1950s, an ad agency noted that jewelers were saying, “a girl is not engaged unless she has a diamond engagement ring”—and boy, have we fallen for that, hook, line, and sinker.
In 1947, copywriter Frances Gerety coined the phrase “A Diamond Is Forever.” And it seems to make sense that we would seal lifelong marital commitments with an everlasting jewel. But whether you wear a rock or not, you’re probably aware that all these attributes we wrap up in the symbol of a diamond—eternity, perfection, and brilliance—are things we sometimes lose sight of in real human relationships, even if they go well.
For love to last a lifetime, much less forever, takes a lot of work. Disney has sold us this line about happily ever after, but human love is not perfect—it’s messy. We can love another person with all our heart, even all our life, and we are still going to hurt them, probably more than once.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, had this idea that he called “Christian perfection.” This sounds super intimidating. But Wesley wasn’t talking as much about behavior as he was talking about love. He wasn’t talking so much about a goal to be reached as a process to be entered into. He believed that you could be a true Christian without being a perfect Christian; you could love truly without loving perfectly.
The Bible has a lot to say about things that are permanent, perfect, and complete—but it’s almost never talking about humans when using those categories. Just 3 chapters into Genesis, mortality becomes a thing; the book of Romans leaves us with no doubt that humans are far from perfect; and the Israelites’ stories of slavery, diaspora, and wilderness wanderings parallel our own modern-day experiences of things not being quite the way they should be.
And I’m totally OK with all of that. Leonard Cohen said, “Everything has a crack in it; that’s how the light gets in.” If something is impermanent, that is all the more reason to cherish it. If something is imperfect, its cracks can let in light and its wounds can invite healing. And if something is incomplete, that means there is room for it to grow. And all of that is very good news. Amen.
Sarah S. Howell